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Chelsea, Massachusetts, Oct. 14, 1973, The Second Great Chelsea Fire destroys 18 city blocks

A conflagration is one term for a great and destructive fire[1] that threatens human life, animal life, health, or property. It may also be described as a blaze or simply a (large) fire. A conflagration can be accidentally begun, naturally caused (wildfire), or intentionally created (arson). Arson can be for fraud, murder, sabotage or diversion, or due to a person's pyromania. A firestorm can form as a consequence of a very large fire, in which the central column of rising heated air induces strong inward winds, which supply oxygen to the fire. Conflagrations can cause casualties including deaths or injuries from burns, trauma due to collapse of structures and attempts to escape, and smoke inhalation.

Firefighting is the practice of attempting to extinguish a conflagration, protect life and property, and minimize damage and injury. One of the goals of fire prevention is to avoid conflagrations.


Causes and types[edit]

During a conflagration a significant movement of air and combustion products occurs. Hot gaseous products of combustion move upward, causing the influx of more dense cold air to the combustion zone. Inside a building, the intensity of gas exchange depends on the size and location of openings in walls and floors, the ceiling height, and the amount and characteristics of the combustible materials.

Industrial conflagrations include fires at oil refineries, such as the 2009 Cataño oil refinery fire.

Conflagrations can occur in forests or other wilderness areas, known as Wildfire.

The conflagration of a building is known as a structure fire.

Notable examples[edit]

Main article: List of historic fires
A fire in a school in Aberdeen, Washington
Rome64Great Fire of Rome
Alexandria, Egypt48BCBurning of the library of Alexandria
Moscow1547Great Fire of Moscow, 15472,700 to 3,700 fatalities; 80,000 displaced
Moscow1571Fire of Moscow, 157110,000 to 80,000 casualties
London1613Burning of the Globe Theatre[5]During the Henry VIII (Play), a cannon fire lit the thatched roof on fire burning down the Theatre
Edo1657Great Fire of Meireki30,000 to 100,000 fatalities, 60-70% of the city was destroyed
London1666Great Fire of London13,200 houses and 87 churches were destroyed
Moscow1812Fire of Moscow (1812)Estimated that 75% of the city was destroyed
Hamburg1842Great Fire of Hamburg25% of the inner-city was destroyed
St. Louis, Missouri1849Great St. Louis Fire430 homes and 23 ships were destroyed, but only 3 people died
Santiago, Chile1863Church of the Company Fire2,000 to 3,000 fatalities
Atlanta1864Atlanta Campaign during American Civil WarMore than 4,000 houses, including dwellings, shops, stores, mills and depots were burned; about eleven-twelfths of the city. Only about 450 buildings escaped damage
Peshtigo, Wisconsin1871Peshtigo FireResulted in most deaths by a single fire event in U.S. history
Chicago1871Great Chicago Fire200 to 300 fatalities; 17,000 buildings were destroyed
Boston1872Boston FireOver 700 buildings were destroyed
Minneapolis1874Great Mill Disaster18 believed fatalities
New York City1876Brooklyn Theater Fire273 – 300 fatalities
Hoboken, New Jersey1900Great Hoboken Pier Fire4 ships burned, killing up to 400 people
Jacksonville, Florida1901Great Fire of 1901An eight-hour fire which destroyed over 2,300 buildings and displaced almost 10,000 people
Chicago1903Iroquois Theater FireDeadliest single-building fire in U.S. history with 602 victims
New York City1904Burning of the steamship General SlocumOver 1000 fatalities
San Francisco1906Result of the 1906 San Francisco earthquakeMore than 105,000 victims; over 95% of city burned
Chelsea, Massachusetts1908First Great Chelsea Fire1500 buildings destroyed, 11,000 left homeless, when a fire at the Boston Blacking Company was fanned by 40MPH winds and raced across the Chelsea Rag District, a several-block area of dilapidated wood-frame buildings housing textile and paper scrap. Half the city was destroyed. Same conditions and origin area of the Second Great Chelsea Fire, 1973.
Idaho1910Massive forest fire known as the Big Burn3 million acres burned out
New York City1911Triangle Shirtwaist Factory FireKilled 146 garment factory workers; 4th deadliest industrial disaster in US history
Columbus, Ohio1930Ohio Penitentiary fire322 fatalities, 150 seriously injured
Coventry1940Coventry BlitzOver 800 fatalities, most of the city was destroyed
Stalingrad1942Firestorm resulting from German air bombardment955 fatalities (original Soviet estimate)
Boston1942Cocoanut Grove fireNightclub fire killed 492 and injured hundreds more
Hamburg1943Firestorm resulting from air bombardment35,000 to 45,000 victims, and 12km² of the city was destroyed
Hartford, Connecticut1944Hartford Circus FireKilled 168 and injured over 700 in circus tent fire
Dresden1945Firestorm resulting from Allied bombingUp to 25,000 fatalities during the three-day bombing; 39km² of the city was destroyed by the fire
Tokyo1945Firestorm resulting from B-29 raids during Operation MeetinghouseAbout 100,000 victims and 41km² of the city was destroyed; similar firestorms hit the Japanese cities of Kobe and Osaka following air bombardments
Hiroshima and Nagasaki1945A Firestorm developed 30 minutes after the bombing of Hiroshima, but only a conflagration developed at Nagasaki[6] (see nuclear explosion)Atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki
Texas City1947Texas City disasterCargo ship Grandcamp caught fire and exploded, destroying most of the harbor and killing 600 people
Seaside Heights & Seaside Park, New Jersey, USA1955The Freeman Pier Fireat least 30 businesses lost, 50 residents evacuated, no major injuries[7][8][9]
Chicago1958Our Lady of the Angels School Fire95 fatalities, 100 wounded
Brussels1967L'Innovation Department Store fire322 victims, 150 wounded
Gulf of Tonkin1967USS Forrestal fireFire aboard aircraft carrier during Vietnam War killed 134 sailors and injured 161
Tasmania, Australia19671967 Tasmanian firesSevere wildfires that claimed 62 lives, 900 injured, displaced 7,000, and destroyed 264,000 hectares of land including 1293 homes
Chelsea, Massachusetts1973Second Great Chelsea Fire18 city blocks destroyed when a firestorm raced across the Chelsea Rag District, a several-block area of dilapidated wood-frame buildings housing textile and paper scrap. The same conditions and origin area of the First Great Chelsea Fire, 1908.
Southgate, Kentucky1977Beverly Hills Supper Club fire165 fatalities
Minneapolis1982Minneapolis Thanksgiving Day FireTwo people were convicted of arson, after setting fire to a Donaldson's department store, which in turn destroyed a full city block of downtown Minneapolis
San Juanico, Mexico1984San Juanico DisasterFire and explosions at a liquid petroleum gas tank farm killed 500-600 people and 5,000-7,000 others suffered severe burns; local town of San Juan Ixhuatepec was devastated
Bradford, England1985Bradford City stadium fire52 victims
London1987King's Cross fireConflagration on London Underground station killed 31 people
Dabwali, India1995Dabwali tent fire540 deaths[10]
New York City2001World Trade Center fires2,806 victims as fires caused both twin towers of the World Trade Center to collapse, following impacts by hijacked airliners
West Warwick, Rhode Island2003The Station nightclub fire100 killed, over 200 injured in fire at rock concert
Asunción, Paraguay2004Ycuá Bolaños supermarket fireAlmost 400 fatalities
Hemel Hempstead, England2005Hertfordshire oil storage terminal fireThe largest fire in peacetime Britain
Greece20072007 Greek forest fires84 victims in over 3,000 wildfires destroying 670,000 acres (2,710 km2) of land
Victoria, Australia2009Black Saturday bushfires173 victims in over 400 separate bushfires which burned 450,000 hectares
Near Haifa, Israel2010Mount Carmel forest fire (2010)44 victims, 12,000 acres (49 km2) of bush/forest destroyed
Comayagua, Honduras2012Comayagua prison fire382 fatalities
Karachi and
Lahore, Pakistan
20122012 Pakistan garment factory firesabout 315 fatalities, over 250 injured in 2 fires on 1 day
Santa Maria, Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil2013Kiss nightclub fireat least 232 fatalities, 117 hospitalized[11]
Seaside Heights & Seaside Park, New Jersey, USA20132013 Seaside Park, New Jersey fireat least 19 buildings destroyed, 30 businesses lost, no major injuries[12]


  1. ^ Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed., "Conflagration"
  2. ^ Unabridged (v 1.1) Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2006.
  3. ^ WordNet 3.0, © 2006 by Princeton University.
  4. ^ Merriam Websters' Dictionary
  5. ^ Shakespeare's Globe Theatre [1]
  6. ^ Glasstone, Philip J.; Dolan, eds. (1977), ""Chapter VII — Thermal Radiation and Its Effects", The Effects of Nuclear Weapons (Third ed.), United States Department of Defense and the Energy Research and Development Administration, pp. 304, Nagasaki probably did not furnish sufficient fuel for the development of a fire storm as compared to the many buildings on the flat terrain at Hiroshima. 1977 Glasstone & Dolan pg 304.
  7. ^ The Freeman Pier Fire- 1955- Seaside
  8. ^ Seaside Begins Rebuilding as Fire Ashes Cool
  9. ^ Fire Loss High, Insurance Low | Concessions Listed
  10. ^ Item 55 in Large Building Fires and Subsequent Code Changes
  11. ^ Brazil Nightclub Fire Kills At Least 232 People
  12. ^ Seaside Businesses Impacted by the Boardwalk Fire

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