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The great Chicago fire of October 8-10, 1871, reportedly began when a cow kicked over a lantern in Mrs. O'Leary's barn. Indeed, there was a cow in the barn belonging to Patrick and Catherine O'Leary of De Koven Street, Chicago, and fire did start in that barn.

Why did the fire spread into one of the most terrible disasters in the history of United States? One reason was the wind. The blaze started on a warm, dry Sunday evening, and at first the O'Leary's and their neighbors tried to put it out themselves.

But after about ten minutes had gone by, one of the neighbors finally ran for the nearest alarm box, about three blocks away, and called the fire department. It took several more minutes for the horse-drawn fire equipment to arrive, and by then a swift wind had begun to blow, causing the fire to spread.

The damage was unbelievable. More than 300 people lost their lives and 18,000 buildings (worth about $200 million) were destoyed. One whole section of the city, four miles long and a mile wide, was completely flattened.

The Chicago fire led to better fire alarm systems, better firefighting equipment, new laws for fireproof buildings, and a new high pressure water system. It also led to Fire Prevention Week, which is observed each year during the week that contains October 9--an annual reminder of the terrible Chicago fire of 1871.

(Paragons Publishing, Paul Lee Tan, "Great Chicago Fire Of 1871," in Encyclopedia of 15,000 Illustrations: Signs of the Times, (Dallas, TX: Bible Communications, 1998), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 874-875. From Jerry McKee's Sermon "How to Start a Fire")

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