Details of the Fire
Legacy of the Fire
Baltimore’s rebuilding after the Great Fire of February 7 and 8, 1904 addressed many urgent needs the city previously had ignored. Professional firefighters elsewhere also benefited from the legacy of those who battled Baltimore’s huge blaze.
Some of its valuable lessons led to the standardization of fire fighting equipment and the establishment of emergency procedures at the city government level, while others emphasized the necessity of modernizing all cities.
Baltimore and many of its downtown businesses faced serious challenges after the Fire. Insurance covered only the replacement value of most of the destroyed buildings, which actually were followed by larger, more costly structures. Some 1400 structures valued at about $13 million prior to the Fire were replaced by approximately 800 buildings worth some $25 million. Consequently, overall industrial progress suffered as building owners diverted investment capital to reconstruction.
A similar diversion of investment capital affected previously planned public works projects. Money earned by the City’s sale of Western Maryland Railroad stock went to reconstruct city-owned portions of the burnt district, rather than to essential public works improvements. Rebuilding streets and docks, as well as preparing ten additional acres of street space, cost more than $7 million, with only $1.1 million of it covered by assessments to property owners.
Repairs to damaged trolley lines enabled service to be restored quickly in most of the City. The network of underground gas lines was re-established. Streets were widened and electric cables covered.
Although rebuilding the burnt district modernized part of the City, many additional improvements still needed to be made. These included construction of the Eastern Avenue Pumping Station and modern sewers to replace the open ditches through which wastewater flowed to the harbor; containment of the flood-prone Jones Falls; and preservation of open space for parks and recreation. The Fire Department augments its water pumping capability, opened strategically placed fire houses and added manpower. Much progress was accomplished.
By 1912, as the automotive age began to dawn, Baltimore’s national prominence as a rail and shipping center was not only confirmed, it was ready to take full advantage of a new period of massive growth.
- Pete Petersen
In the wake of Baltimore Great Fire, concern elsewhere focused on the lack of standardized fire hose couplings nationwide. When Washington, DC’s fire fighters had arrived in Baltimore to help, they found that they were unable to attach their hoses to Baltimore’s hydrants. Many of the other 21 cities responding to help had a similar problem.
Although the National Board of Fire Underwriters had been stressing the need to standardize since 1872, there were more than 600 different sizes and variations of fire hose couplings still being used in the United States.
While Baltimore rebuilt its hydrant system after 1904, it did adopt the proposed standard but only for the 2” couplings.
When: From Sunday, February 7, 1904 (10:23am) until under control Monday, February 8, 1904 (c. 5 pm)
Where: Baltimore, MD, downtown business district (140 acres)
What: 1,526 structures; 4 large lumber yards; 2,500 businesses; 75,000 feet of 2" hose
Who: 1,231 fire fighters; 1,200 National Guardsmen; 1 died in the Fire, 3 later; 247 injured; est. 35,000 temporarily jobless workers
Why: unknown cause (origin in basement storage facility)
How: spread by erratic, high winds; lack of standardized hose couplings
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Eichelberger, Rosa K. Big Fire in Baltimore. Owings Mills, MD: Stemmer House Publishers, Inc., 1979.
Frederick, Gary E. The Great Baltimore Fire, February 7, 1904: Fire Department Operations. Lutherville, MD: Fire Museum of Maryland, 2004.
Petersen, Peter B. The Great Baltimore Fire. Baltimore, MD: Maryland Historical Society, 2004.
Welden, George R. No Reason to Burn: The Story of the Great Baltimore Fire. Lutherville, MD: Fire Museum of Maryland, 2004.
Williams, Harold A. Baltimore Afire. Baltimore, MD: Schneidereith & Sons, 1954.