Fire Prevention Week will be held the week of Oct. 5-12, a reminder that a fire can affect your life in many ways.
According to the National Fire Protection Association, one of the worst fires in history, the Great Chicago Fire, started on Oct. 8 1871, and killed more than 250 people, left 100,000 homeless, destroyed more than 17,400 structures and burned more than 2,000 acres.
A popular legend refers to Mrs. O’Leary’s cow as the culprit for starting the fire, but historians now believe it could have been a group of neighborhood boys sneaking a cigarette. Other theories include meteorites falling to earth, because other fires in the area started that same day in Wisconsin and Michigan.
The Peshtigo Fire, is said to be the most devastating forest fire in American history. The fire, which also occurred on October 8th, 1871, roared through Northeast Wisconsin, burning down 16 towns, killing 1,152 people, and scorching 1.2 million acres.
“Historical accounts of the fire say that the blaze began when several railroad workers clearing land for tracks unintentionally started a brush fire. Before long, the fast-moving flames were whipping through the area ‘like a tornado,’ some survivors said. It was the small town of Peshtigo, Wisconsin that suffered the worst damage. Within an hour, the entire town had been destroyed.”
The fires changed the way firefighters and public officials thought about fire safety. It was decided on the 40th anniversary of the Great Chicago Fire by the International Fire Marshals Association that the anniversary of the Great Chicago Fire should be observed “not with festivities, but in a way that would keep the public informed about the importance of fire prevention.”
President Woodrow Wilson issued the first National Fire Prevention Day proclamation in 1920 and Fire Prevention Week has been observed around the same time every Oct. since 1922.
Fire Prevention Week has a different theme every year. This year’s theme is, ” Smoke Alarms Save Lives: Test Yours Every Month.”
“Why this Mad Sacrifice to Fire?” was the theme for the year 1927, and “Don’t Let Fire Lick You,” was the theme for 1950. Nfpa.org has a list of themes through the years.
Local fire departments are conducting activities that included a public demonstration by the Hiawatha Fire Department, in which they set up two pods; one with a fire sprinkler system, and one without. According to firefighter, Rob Archibald, it took only four minutes for the fire to engulf the first pod full of furniture, but in the pod with the sprinkler system, it took only 45 minutes to extinguish the flames.
Schools are also participating in fire safety week, teaching their students fire safety and prevention, and encouraging families to develop an escape plan. According to an NFPA survey, only one-third of Americans have both developed and practiced a home fire escape plan and almost three-quarters of Americans do have an escape plan; however, more than half never practiced it.