Nobody knows if Mrs. O’Leary’s cow really kicked over the lantern but the Great Chicago Fire certainly ignited in the O’Leary barn. We may never know the true spark that ignited the city October 8, 1871, but whatever the source, that raging inferno stands out for its destructive power. The fire killed hundreds, destroyed thousands of buildings and inflicted $200 million in property damage. Fanned by windy and dry conditions from a summer drought, the flames found ready fuel – tinder-dry wooden buildings and sidewalks – and the fire burned wildly for more than two days. Exhausted emergency teams finally gained control when cooling rain aided frantic firefighting efforts on October 10. Ironically, the upwind O’ Leary property survived largely unscathed.

Fires were and remain tragically commonplace. In fact, on the very day the Chicago Fire broke out, a forest fire swept through Peshtigo, Wisconsin, 250 miles north of the Windy City, killing over 1,000 people. As we approach Fire Prevention Week 2019 – taking place October 6-12 across North America – now is a perfect time to renew fire prevention efforts at homes and businesses. Take a moment to choose one or more actions below – some are simple and take just a few minutes – to become fire-safer during Fire Prevention Week: 

  • Get more information about fire prevention by browsing the Canada Safety Council’s website or individual provincial websites.
  • Develop a comprehensive fire escape plan for business or home and distribute to employees or family members.
  • Hold a fire escape drill.
  • Designate an outside meeting spot in case of fire.
  • Quiz your knowledge of fire safety.
  • Involve the younger set in fire safety; many free materials are available online.
  • Volunteer to help out your local fire department – many tasks don’t require lengthy or continuing time commitments.
  • Test smoke alarms. Better yet, upgrade: install hard-wired, inter-connected smoke alarms that have battery backup.
  • Never leave burning candles unattended, even for a few minutes. 

Fire prevention becomes an absolute must once you know stark statistics like this one: over the life of an average household, there is a 50 percent chance the home will experience an accidental fire, with most igniting in the kitchen. Risks are significant and devastating at the office, too: experts estimate that 60 to 80 percent of all businesses never recover after experiencing a structural fire. And if your property experiences a fire despite your best efforts at prevention? Paul Davis is on call around the clock to respond, mitigate and restore homes and businesses as quickly as possible.