One : Sunday Morning, 11 am
On Sunday February 7th, 1904 most of Baltimore was looking forward to a quiet Sunday afternoon.
The firefighters at Engine Co. 15 were preparing for morning inspection at 11 am. However, at 10:48 am they received an automatic alarm at the John Hurst & Company, located between Hopkins Place and Liberty Street on the south side of German Street (now Redwood). The Salvage Corps responded first, as did Fifth District Engineer Levin Burkhardt, Engine 15 and Truck 2.
Two : Sunday, 12 noon
As Engine 15 turned up Liberty Street, Captain John Kahl could see smoke coming from the top floor of the Hurst Building. Captain Kahl did not think he had much of a fire so he went to check the automatic alarm box. The box indicated that there was fire in the basement, so Captain Kahl had his crew force entry through a glass door on the German Street side and entered the building with a chemical line and hand line. As the crew was standing on the stairs to the basement they could see the fire rolling across the ceiling towards the elevator shaft. It was not long after Captain Kahl entered the building when black smoke rolled down the elevator shaft. An explosion on the upper floors was powerful enough to blow off the roof, break several windows and also throw large embers across the street into the broken windows of several neighboring buildings.
Three : Sunday, 6 pm
The fire quickly spread and in minutes the surrounding buildings were ablaze. Chief George Horton, who responded just after 11:10 am, realized the severity of the Fire and summoned almost the entire Baltimore City Fire Department, including 24 engines and 8 hook & ladders to the scene. At 11:55 am, the Chief requested help from Washington, DC. The wind was blowing from the southwest driving the Fire towards the northeast. The Fires raged toward the Court House and City Hall, consuming everything in its path. At 1:30 pm, the first mutual aid engines from Washington arrived. It was discovered that their couplings would not fit Baltimore’s fire hydrants, so they were wrapped with canvas. This reduced their effectiveness and continued to cause problems with the arrival of other mutual aid companies who came later.
Four : Monday, 12 Midnight
At 5 pm, it was decided to use dynamite as a means of stopping the spread of fire. Tons of explosives were brought in and operations began on targeted buildings. The first property was that of John Duer & Son on Charles Street, South of German Street. The building shook but remained standing. Next targeted was the Schwab Bros. Building, on the southwest corner of Charles and German Streets, with the same results. Dynamiting did not hinder the spread of fire and, in many instances, merely accelerated the Fire’s spreading elsewhere.
Around 8 pm, the wind changed direction, blowing from the west and driving the Fire in a more easterly direction. Also around this time, engines from Philadelphia, PA and Wilmington, DE began to arrive. Due to fire fighting operations and more importantly the wind change, the spread northward was halted, stopping just short of City Hall and the Court House.
Five : Monday, 3 am
After midnight and into the day on February 8th, the wind changed again, blowing from the northwest. It brought in a cold front and moved the Fire east to southeast at around 25 mph. Luckily, this was the last change in the wind direction for the duration of the Fire. About this time, another fire started at the Maryland Institute Association of Mechanical Arts and grew around Center Market and Water Street, started by fire brands that blew across from the Western part of the City. This fire was well east of the main Fire at this point by at least 5 blocks. Later in the morning, these fires would grow together and increasing the area and intensity of the fire. Also during the early morning hours, additional engines from Washington and Philadelphia were joined by fire companies from York, Chester, Harrisburg, and Altoona, PA.
Six : Monday, 6 am
Around 6 am, the Fire had reached Pratt and Light Streets. Here a heroic stand was made by mainly mutual aid engines primarily from Philadelphia. Through their efforts, the buildings and piers along Light Street, south of Pratt, were saved and thus prevented the Fire from reaching Federal Hill and the rest of South Baltimore.
The Fire was moving east along Pratt Street toward the Jones Falls. Steam fire engines lined the docks taking water from the harbor and attempting to save the many piers and wharves that lined Pratt Street. Faced with 25 mph winds in their faces, the firemen bravely tried to stand their ground, but were finally driven from the area and in some cases the units were trapped by surrounding fire for periods of time. Fortunately all members reached safety.
Seven: Monday, 12 noon
By 8 am, the fight to save the Pratt Street piers was lost as flames spread south and east of Pratt Street. The only hope of saving East Baltimore was the Jones Falls. Thus a fire department stand was established along the east side of the Falls. Starting around 11:00 am until 1:30 pm nine engines from New York City, along with two more engines from Wilmington, were placed along the Jones Falls. A total of 37 steam fire engines took water from the Falls from Baltimore Street south and established a wall of water to halt the advancing flames.
Although the major part of the conflagration was over by 3 pm, it took weeks for the smoldering fires to finally be put out.
Through the valiant efforts of the Baltimore and Mutual Aid fire companies at the Jones Falls many of Baltimore's Eastside landmarks were saved. It is because of these heroic men that the Shot Tower, Carroll Mansion, Flag House and neighborhood of Little Italy survived the fire.
Immediately after the disaster, Baltimore began to rebuild. The hazardous conditions that precipitated the rapid spread of the fire were corrected. Narrow streets were widened, electrical lines were put underground, and the City's sewer system was modernized. In only two years nearly the entire Burnt District was rebuilt and downtown was once again the business center of Baltimore.
Today, where ruins and ashes from the conflagration were once in evidence as far as the eye could see, the heart of the city's business district again stands. Baltimore has experienced many renewals, but none have shaped this city as profoundly as its reconstruction after the Great Fire. This renaissance helped create the vibrant and beautiful city of Baltimore as it is today.
|The explosion of the Hurst Company building sent flames and firebrands on to the roofs and through windows of nearby buildings. Within minutes, four additional buildings were on fire and threatening others. Chief Engineer George Horton ordered a general alarm and sent a telegram to Washington that read: "Desperate fire here. Must have help at once."|
|The Hopkins Place Savings Bank was located just one block north of where the fire started. A total of 20 banks burned in the fire. Amazingly all the bank vaults held secure and not a single penny was lost in the fire!|
|The Baltimore Fire, 1904. Watercolor on paper by Mary Dorsey Davis, 1904.|
|Located on the northeast corner of Charles and Fayette the building burned in the fire, but its steel framework held. Known as the Jefferson Building today, it is one of the 10 buildings to survive the fire.|
|Near Pratt and Charles steets was the Anderson and Ireland hardware store. Because of the large amount of gunpowder stored there, firemen poured water on the building until the fire ended late Monday afternoon.|
|Thousands of Baltimoreans flooded the city in the hours after the fire broke out. In this excerpt from the film The Great Fire of Baltimore, you can see some of them gathered outside of Baltimore's Courthouse.|
|The narrow width of downtown streets allowed the wind-blown fire to easily jump buildings and entire blocks.|
|By 10 o'clock Sunday night Maryland Trust Company (left), B&O Railroad (center background) and Continental Trust Company, Baltimore's tallest building, were ablaze and the glare could be seen from as far away as Washington, D.C.|
|Located on the southwest corner of Calvert and Baltimore streets, the Alex Brown and Sons building survived the fire with a just few cracks that can still be seen today! The tremendous updraft created by the nearby skyscrapers caused the fire to jump over the one-story building.|
|The tall building in the center of the photo is the Continental Trust Building. To the right is the dome of City Hall, which suffered only minor damage to its roof.|
|This view is of the aftermath of the fire from Federal Hill looking across the inner harbor to the downtown area with City Hall and its dome barely visible in the right background.|
|Units of the Maryland National Guard were called out on Sunday evening at the height of the fire. By midnight more than 2,000 soldiers and sailors were on duty in the fire district to deal with the crowds of spectators. The soldiers remained on guard duty until February 23rd.|
|Film footage taken from around Baltimore's Centre Market.|
|Firemen eventually used the 75 foot wide Jones Falls to stop the spread of the fire. 37 engines were stationed on the bridges crossing the Jones Falls to keep the fire from spreading into east Baltimore.|
|Although efforts to save the piers eventually failed, firemen on the ground and aboard fireboat Cataract eventually stopped the fire at the Jones Falls.|