Conflagration (Lat. conflagratio, a burning together), the destruction by fire of a considerable part of a large town or city. The term is also applied to fires which overrun a large extent of prairie or forest; such as that in October, 1871, which swept over a great portion of the peninsula between Lakes Huron and Michigan. By this conflagration it is estimated that 4,000,000,000 feet of timber was destroyed, and thriving towns, farm and school houses, churches, stock, and crops we're consumed; and nearly 3,000 families, or about 18,000 persons, were rendered homeless. - Conflagrations have been sometimes the consequence of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, but oftener of accident; and in early times very frequently cities were wantonly burned by conquerors. The final destruction of Nineveh was doubtless accomplished by fire; but whether this took place at the time of its capture is uncertain. The fact of the destruction by conflagration is attested by the heaps of charcoal and other signs of devouring fire which are still found among the ruins of all the royal palaces at Nimrud, Koyunjik, and Khorsabad. Fire had also an important part in the ruin of Babylon, as is shown by the vivid account of Jeremiah, whether it is to be regarded as history or prophecy: "The mighty men of Babylon have forborne to fight; they have remained in their holds; their might has failed; they became as women: they have burned her dwelling places; the passages are stopped, and the seeds they have burned with fire; the broad walls shall be utterly broken; and her high gates shall be burned with fire." All which seems to imply that the city was dismantled, and that fire was brought in to destroy the palaces and fortifications; but the brick walls and ordinary houses were left, and their almost entire disappearance is owing to time and the elements.
Ctesiphon and Seleu-cia, cities built in a great measure from the ruins of Babylon, were repeatedly sacked and burned. Seleucia, at the time of its destruction by the Romans under Lucius Verus, about A. D. 165, is said to have contained 500,000 inhabitants, of whom 300,000 were massacred. So complete was the destruction that 40 years later the site of the city was a marsh, filled with wild game. Bagdad, partly built from the ruins of Seleucia, famous during the middle ages, and yet the most considerable city of Mesopotamia, was in 1258 captured, sacked, and partly burned by Hulaku, the grandson of Genghis Khan; and again by the Turks in 1638, when a large part of the population was put to death, and a great part of the city burned. Damascus was captured and burned by the Assyrians under Tiglath-Pileser; the capture and sack is among the subjects depicted on the extant Assyrian monuments. The story of the Trojan war is perhaps partly mythical; but this much at least appears clearly historical: About 1184 B. C. the^city of Ilium, in the Troad, was besieged, finally taken by the Greeks, and destroyed, fire being largely used in the destruction.
The cities of the ancient Egyptians had little wood in their construction, and contained little combustible material; and their destruction appears not to have been accomplished by conflagration. Alexandria, founded by Alexander the Great in 332 B. C, was a Greek city rather than Egyptian, and was several times the scene of great fires; as in its blockade in the time of Julius Cresar, and in the 4th century, when the temple of the Serapeum was destroyed by Christian fanatics. Tyre was captured by Alexander the Great in 332 B. C, after a long siege; and even after the Macedonians entered the city an obstinate resistance was kept up from the roofs of the houses. Irritated by this, the conquerors set fire to the city, massacred 8,000 of the inhabitants, crucified 2,000, and sold 30,000 more into slavery. During the long period between Nebuchadnezzar and the final Turkish domination, Jerusalem was for nearly a score of times in a great measure destroyed by conflagration. It was taken by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 B. C, when the temple and all the buildings were burned, and the walls completely demolished.
After half a century or more a new city grew up on the site of the old one; this was mostly destroyed by fire under Antiochus Epiphanes, about 170 B. C, and again by Antiochus Sidetes. In 63 B. C. it was captured by Pompey, and partly burned. It was restored by Herod. Judea having revolted against the Romans, Jerusalem was captured by Titus, A. D. 70, after a siege of five months. Irritated by its stubborn resistance, the Romans undertook its total destruction, fire being brought largely into play. The city was totally demolished, with the exception of three towers and a portion of the wall, which were left standing to shelter the legion who were left as a garrison. - Carthage, the ancient rival of Rome, was several times burned; first in 146 B. C, after the close of the third Punic war, when by order of the Roman senate it was totally destroyed; everything that could be burned was given to the flames, the site of the city was ploughed over, and the furrows were sown with salt. In course of centuries a new town sprang up near the site of the former one, which grew to be a place of great importance, hardly inferior to Rome itself.
In 439 it was taken almost by surprise by Gen-seric, partially burned, and made the capital of the Vandal kingdom in Africa. It was retaken by Belisarius in 533, and in 698 taken and utterly destroyed by Hassan, the Saracenic governor of Egypt. So thorough was the destruction, mainly by conflagration, that hardly a vestige remains to mark the site of either the Phoenician or the Roman Carthage. - Athens was taken by Xerxes in 480 B. C, and the next year was totally burned by the Persians under Mardonius. It was soon rebuilt, and though several times afterward captured and dismantled, it appears never to have been again destroyed by fire. Corinth, having joined the Achaean league, was devoted to destruction by the Roman senate, and was burned to the ground by Mummius in 146 B. C, the same year in which Carthage was destroyed. - The first general conflagration of Rome was about 390 B. C, when it was burned by the Gauls. An extensive fire is noted as having occurred during the reign of Tiberius, near the beginning of our era, in which nearly all the buildings on the Caelian hill were destroyed.
But the great conflagration took place in A. D. 64? in the reign of Nero. It began at the lower part of the circus maximus, in some shops where combustible materials were stored up, spread northward over the whole Palatine hill, and was finally arrested at the foot of the Esquiline. The conflagration raged for six days and seven nights. Out of the fourteen regions or districts into which the city was divided, three were completely destroyed, and seven very nearly so. Dion Cassius and Suetonius affirm that the fire was the immediate work of Nero, who was disgusted with the narrow winding streets of the city; and the more judicious Tacitus rather favors the imputation. But the probability is that this is unfounded. Nero was at Antium when the fire broke out, and did not return to Rome until his own palace was threatened, which he was unable to save. It is also affirmed by Tacitus, but upon grounds hardly historical, that in order to avert from himself the suspicions which attached to him, he charged the crime upon the Christians, against whom about this time a severe persecution was instituted.
Notwithstanding the great loss occasioned by this conflagration, it proved in the long run an advantage to the city; for the narrow crooked, lanes were rebuilt on a regular plan, with broad streets, open places, and less lofty houses; and many excellent measures were carried into effect for guarding against conflagrations in the future. Nero himself supplied the proprietors of the burnt district with money for rebuilding, and specified a time within which the houses were to be completed; and Rome rose from her ashes far more splendid than before. In the succeeding three centuries several great fires are recorded. In 188 the capital was destroyed by lightning; in 248 Pompey's amphitheatre was burned. Early in the 5th century Rome began to suffer from the approach of the northern barbarians, and much of it was burned by the hordes of Alaric in 410 and of Genseric in 455. - Constantinople, under its present name and its old one of Byzantium, has often been visited by conflagrations. During the crusades it suffered severely. In 1203 it was taken by the Latins; fire was set to it, and, according to Gibbon, "during eight days and nights the conflagration spread above a league in front, and from the harbor to the Propontis, over the thickest and most populous region of the city.
It is not easy to count the stately churches and palaces that were reduced to a smoking ruin." When finally captured by the Turks in 1453, it was not burned. Indeed, the general practice of the Turks, unlike that of most conquering hordes, has not been to destroy the towns which they captured. Under Turkish rule it has been frequently the scene of great accidental conflagrations. The most noted of these in recent times are those of 1852, when 3,500 houses were destroyed; of 1865, in which 8,000 houses and numerous public buildings were burned; and of 1870, when 3,000 houses were burned in the suburb of Pera, and as is estimated from 500 to 1,000 persons lost their lives. - Few cities of either ancient or modern times have escaped notable conflagrations. Most of these are noticed under their respective names. Of those in London many have become historical. In 962, and again in 1087, a great part of the city was destroyed by fire. In 1212 a fire broke out on the Southwark side of London bridge, and crossed to the opposite side of the river, hemming in a numerous crowd, who flung themselves into boats and barges; 3,000 persons are said to have been drowned, and a great part of the city as it then existed was burned.
The "great fire'.' in London took place Sept. 2-6, 1666. It began in a baker's house in Pudding lane, behind, the Monument yard, and extended from the tower to the Temple church, and from the northeast gate to Holborn bridge, covering a space of 436 acres of the most densely peopled part of the city. During four days 89 churches, including St. Paul's, the city gates, the royal exchange, the custom house, Guildhall, Sion college, and many other public buildings were burned. This great fire destroyed 13,200 houses, and laid waste 400 streets; it is said that 200,000 persons whose homes had been destroyed encamped in Islington and Highgate fields. The London monument, erected in 1671-7, from designs by Sir Christopher Wren, stands near the spot where the conflagration originated. It is a column 202 ft. high, including the base. It bore originally four inscriptions, of which three were in Latin. The English inscription, as cut in 1681, ran thus: "This pillar was set vp in perpetval remembrance of that most dreadful burning of this Protestant city, begun and carryed on by ye treachery and malice of ye popish faction, in ye beginning of Septem. in ye year of our Lord 1666, in order to ye carrying on their horrid plot for extirpating ye Protestant religion and old English liberty, and ye introducing popery and slavery." This inscription, falsely attributing the fire to a deliberate plot of the Catholics, gave rise to the indignant couplet of Pope:
"Where London's column, pointing at the skies, Like a tall bully, lifts its head and lies".
This inscription was obliterated under James II., recut under William III., and finally erased in 1831, by order of the common council of London. Many great fires, which may be properly called conflagrations, have since occurred in London. Among these are: the fire at Wap-ping in 1715, when 150 houses were burned and 50 lives lost; in Cornhill yard in 1748, long styled the second great London fire, when 200 houses were burned; in 1780, by the Gordon mobs, in which the destruction was great; in 1794, at Wapping, in which 630 houses were burned, including an East India warehouse, containing 35,000 bags of saltpetre, the total loss being estimated at £1,000,000; in 1803, when the great tower over the choir of Westminster abbey was burned; in 1805, 1808, and 1809, when the Surrey, Covent Garden, and Drury Lane theatres were burned; in 1814, when the custom house, warehouses, and public records were destroyed; in 1834, when the houses of parliament were consumed; in 1856, when the works of Scott Russell and co. were for the third time burned; in 1859, at London docks, where a great explosion took place; in 1861, at Cotton's wharf and other wharves near Tooley street, where were stored oil and other combustible substances.
This fire lasted nearly a month, involving several lives, and a loss of property estimated at £2,000,000. For the last 40 years the fires in London, great and small, have averaged about 1,200 a year. In 1854 there were 953; in 1857, 1,113; in 1861, 1,183; in 1864,1,715; in 1867, 1,397; in 1869, 1,572. - Copenhagen suffered from great conflagrations in 1728, when 1,640 houses were burned; in 1795, when the number was 950; and most severely in 1807, when without any declaration of hostilities the city was bombarded by the English, because the king refused to surrender to them his fleet. By this bombardment and the consequent conflagration 350 buildings were totally destroyed, 2,000 more rendered uninhabitable, and 2,000 citizens were killed. - Moscow has several times suffered severely from fire. In 1536 there was an accidental fire by which the city was nearly destroyed, and 2,000 persons perished. In 1571 the Tartars set fire to the suburbs, and a furious wind driving the flames into the city, a considerable part was reduced to ashes. It is said that 100,000 persons perished in the flames or by the sword, but this is hardly credible.
In 1611 it was again burned by the Poles. But the great conflagration of 1812 is one of the most noted on record, not only on account of its magnitude, but for its historical importance. The French entered the city Sept. 14, Napoleon proposing to make it his winter quarters. On that very day several fires broke out, but little attention was paid to them by the invading army until the next two days, when they had acquired great headway. On the 17th a high wind arose, and the flames spread rapidly in every direction; by the 18th the whole city appeared a sea of flame, and by the evening of the 20th nine tenths of it was reduced to ashes. The total number of buildings destroyed is stated at between 13,000 and 15,000. The Russians at the time, in order to cast odium upon the French, attributed this conflagration to the orders of Napoleon. It is now, however, generally acknowledged that the fires were the work of the Russians themselves, and that they were kindled by the orders of the governor, Rostoptchin, acting beyond all doubt under the sanction of the emperor Alexander, without which it is hardly conceivable that the governor would have ventured such a step. The object was to deprive the French army of shelter from the winter.
Ample precautions had been taken to insure the entire destruction of the city. Inflammable materials were placed in deserted mansions in every quarter, and the torch was applied simultaneously all over the city. In burning the French out of their proposed winter quarters no provision had been made for the safety of the inhabitants, who were driven to seek shelter in the surrounding woods; and it is affirmed that more than 20,000 sick and wounded perished in the flames. The direct loss to the French is put down at 40,000; and beyond this it in the end involved the retreat in the dead of winter and the almost complete annihilation of-the great French army. This act, which the Russians at the time repudiated, is now considered by them as their highest glory, the greatest example in history of national self-sacrifice for the destruction of an invader. - Hamburg was the scene of a great conflagration in 1842. The fire broke out May 5, and raged till the 8th, widening its sweep as it advanced, crossing streets and leaping over broad canals, and destroying fully one third of the city. It overran 61 streets, besides numerous courts and alleys, burning 1,749 buildings, among which were the finest churches and public edifices.
Large contributions for the relief of the sufferers were made all over Europe, amounting in all to not less than $2,000,-000. The authorities took advantage of this conflagration to introduce an extensive system of improvements, by laying out new and broader streets, establishing water works, and constructing sewers. For these improvements a loan of about $20,000,000 was effected, which now constitutes a considerable part of the debt of the city. - Paris has been singularly exempt from conflagrations, no great fire having occurred until those of May, 1871, caused by the communists; and these are remarkable rather for the pecuniary and historical value of the objects destroyed than for the absolute extent of the conflagration, the incendiaries not having been able to carry out their design of burning the whole city. The palace of the Tuileries was burned down, and the magnificent library of the Louvre destroyed; the Palais Royal was much injured; and of the h6tel de ville, containing works of art of priceless value which can never be replaced, only the bare skeleton of the walls remained. Various other notable palaces and public buildings were laid in ashes. - Of the great conflagrations which are known to have occurred in the cities of China we have only scanty accounts.
In 1822 a fire in Canton destroyed 15,000 houses. Yedo, in Japan, seems to rival Constantinople in the frequency and extent of its conflagrations. In 1806 a fire destroyed the palaces of 37 princes, each almost a town in itself, and 1,200 lives. In 1854 an earthquake laid a great part of the city in ruins, and occasioned an extensive conflagration. The loss of life from the falling buildings and fire is stated at 200,000; but this may be presumed to be an exaggeration. - In New York considerable fires took place in 1741, which were attributed to incendiaries, and seven persons were hanged. In 1776 a fire destroyed 493 houses in Broadway, laying an eighth of the city in ashes. In 1778 another broke out on a wharf on the East river, destroying 300 buildings. In December, 1804, 40 warehouses in Wall and Front streets were burned. The first great conflagration took place Dec. 16, 1835, in what was then the main business portion of the city, the district lying east of Broadway and north of Wall street.
There were burned the merchants' exchange, several banks, and 648 large warehouses, all filled with valuable merchandise; the entire loss was not less than $18,000,000. In July, 1845, another great fire took place partly on the same ground, but extending further to the south and west, the loss amounting to about $5,000,000. On Sept. 9, 1848, a destructive conflagration took place in Brooklyn, which spread oyer seven of the principal business blocks of the city in and near Fulton street, destroying about 500 houses. - San Francisco within the first two years of its existence had five great fires. In a year after the first discovery of gold the place had grown from a small village to a city of 30,000 inhabitants. The houses were closely crowded together, and built of the most combustible materials, while there were hardly any appliances for extinguishing fires. The first conflagration was on Dec. 4, 1849, the loss being about $1,000,000; the second, May 4, 1850, loss $3,000,000; the third, June 14,1850, loss $3,000,000; the fourth and greatest, May 2, 1851, loss $7,000,000; the fifth, June 22, 1851, loss $2,000,000. In this series of conflagrations, following closely upon each other, the total loss was $18,000,000, an amount in proportion to the number of inhabitants fully equal to that of the great fire in Chicago. - Columbia, the capital of South Carolina, was almost totally destroyed by fire on the 17th and 18th of February, 1865. The Union army, under Sherman, had just entered the city, which had been evacuated by the confederate forces, under the immediate command of Wade Hampton. A large quantity of cotton lay piled in the streets, bales of which were cut open and set on fire.
A strong wind took up the burning cotton, starting fires in many parts of the city at once, and it was only through the exertions of the Union troops that any portion of it was saved. When the confederate army evacuated Richmond, in April, 1865, Ewell, who commanded the rear guard, gave orders for the firing of the warehouses situated in the heart of the city; and when the Union advance guard entered they found a great conflagration raging, and before it could be extinguished a third of the city, embracing the entire business portion, was consumed. A very great fire, accidentally kindled in a sash factory, devastated Charleston on the night of Dec. 11, 1861. Several churches, and nearly all the public buildings, banks, and insurance offices, were burned. The value destroyed was estimated at $10,000,000. In February, 1865, when the city was evacuated by the confederate forces, fire was set by order of Gen. Hardee to all the warehouses containing cotton; a serious conflagration ensued, and about 200 persons .were killed by an explosion of gunpowder. - On July 4, 1866, a destructive conflagration began in Portland, Me., occasioned by a fire cracker. Aided by a strong southerly gale, it swept due north, destroying everything in its way for a space a mile and a half long by half a mile wide.
More than 50 buildings were blown up in the vain hope to check the march of the flames. It was finally extinguished on the afternoon of the 5th, after nearly one half of the finest part of the city had been destroyed. The entire loss was not less than $10,000,000. - The most destructive conflagration which ever occurred in the United States, and one of the most destructive on record, was that of Chicago, Oct. 8-10, 1871. In the region where the fire broke out were many small wooden buildings and several lumber yards. From these the fire swept westward into the part of the city which contained most of the warehouses and public buildings. The navigable river presented no barrier to the spread of the conflagration. Buildings supposed to be fire-proof burned like tinder, and the fire died out after three days, almost entirely from lack of fuel. The conflagration swept over 2,100 acres, and destroyed 17,450 buildings, among which were 41 churches, 32 hotels, 10 theatres, 8 public schools, 5 elevators containing 1,642,000 bushels of grain, 3 railroad depots, 9 daily newspaper offices, the court house, custom house, post office, chamber of commerce, and gas works. It is estimated that 98,500 persons were rendered homeless, and 200 lost their lives.
The total loss is put down at $198,000,000, of which $140,000,000 was in goods and merchandise, being 47 per cent, of the entire valuation of the property in the city. Contributions for the relief of the sufferers, amounting in all to not less than $7,000,000, were received from all parts of the country and from Europe. No city ever recovered so speedily from such a blow. Within a year nearly all the burnt district had been rebuilt; and within less than two years the business of the city was supposed to have become greater by a quarter than before the fire. - Boston was in November, 1872, visited by a conflagration second in extent, in the United States, only to that of Chicago. The fire was discovered early in the evening of the 9th, and spread with great rapidity; but it appeared to have been brought under control by noon of the 10th, when an explosion of gas took place, and the conflagration became more furious than before, lasting until the morning of the 11th. The space burned over was about 70 acres, only one thirtieth of that at Chicago; but this was almost entirely occupied for business and manufacturing purposes, and was the very centre of the wholesale trade in dry goods, clothing, boots and shoes, and wool.
About 800 buildings were burned, many of them of granite, five or more stories high. There were few public buildings or private residences in this space, and so not many persons were rendered homeless, and not more than 15 lives were lost. The destruction of property was about $80,000,000.