The Great Atlanta Fire

The Impact of The Great Atlanta Fire

The Great Atlanta Fire of 1917 was a consolidation of four fires during the morning and afternoon of Monday, May 21st, 1917. Beginning at 11:39 a.m., the first fire erupted on the West End of the city at the Candler Warehouse. Just four minutes later, another fire was reported at a cotton warehouse in the downtown area. The third fire started at 12:15 p.m., on Woodward Avenue. Roughly thirty-one minutes later, the roof of a building located on Decatur Street burst into flames.

The building off of Decatur Street was used as storage space for a local hospital. When the firefighters left to put out the fire, their truck malfunctioned and was unable to reach the destination. With the other fire units being occupied at the other fire sites, no other local fire trucks were immediately available. What should have been an easy fire to extinguish turned into a disaster.

Due to windy conditions that day, the fire spread a total of fifty blocks, all the way to Piedmont Park. As a result, fire crews throughout the state, and some in nearby states, were called in as backup. Additionally, a group of soldiers from Fort McPherson marched around four miles to Atlanta, forming bucket brigades. Fire Chief William “Bill” Cody decided the best way to stop the fire would be to dynamite the homes that were in the path of the fire, so that the fire could not intensify. Luckily, this strategy worked and the fire was contained and eventually extinguished.

The fire left the city in an abundance of smoke and ash. Approximately, 1,938 buildings were destroyed, along with three hundred acres of real estate. One-tenth of the city’s population was left homeless and had to sleep in church sanctuaries, hotels, and vacant lots. Thankfully, the rebuilding period was rapid, and the people left homeless from the fire were able to have a place to stay. The single-family style homes downtown were reconstructed into apartment style buildings in order to accommodate more citizens. In addition, some burned down areas were transformed into park space within the city.

This fire took a toll on the city of Atlanta, but proved the community among the different fire units traveling all across the area to help, allowing the city to transform itself.

Read our article, One Great Fire, A Lasting Impact on Fire Service, for more on how a large fire can impact a city.

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