What happened during the Great Chicago Fire of 1871?

Today marks the 148thanniversary of one of the most famous fires in American history, the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. The fire destroyed over three square miles of the city, killed as many as 300 people, and left over 100,000 residents homeless. 

The cause of the fire was never officially determined but several elements created conditions that lead to the conflagration. The city was constructed largely of wood: buildings built in the balloon frame styleand topped with tar or shingle roofs were highly flammable. The city’s sidewalks and roads were also made of wood. Drought conditions for the few months leading up to the fire and strong winds during the fire also contributed to its scale. 

In 1871, Chicago only had 185 firefighters and 17 steam engines for a city of 300,000 residents, and firefighting methods were primitive compared to what we have now. Imagine the alarm being delivered by a bell and a human, and fire engines transported by horses. On this night, firefighters initially went to the wrong location due to human error and they had no way to communicate with the station or other firefighters. The force had also been strained as there had been several smaller fires in the weeks leading up to October 8 due to the drought.

Several hours into the fire, the city’s waterworks building was destroyed and with it, the city’s water mains dried up taking away any hope of extinguishing the blaze. Finally, 24 hours after the fire started, it began to burn itself out and an opportune rain shower extinguished it for good.

Insurance implications

Thousands of policyholders were never paid for their losses due to their paperwork being burned or their insurance company going bankrupt. Only about half of the residents who had insurance were paid for their loss. Fifty-eight of the 129 Chicago insurance companies went bankrupt as a result of the fire. Insurance only contributed about one third of the rebuilding costs of Chicago. The rest of the funds came from donations from around the world and the pockets of the building owners.

How having a public adjuster would have helped

After such a large-scale event, having a public adjuster represent you would be vital. The sheer number of claims being filed at the time creates a need to have an advocate fighting for your place in line. Furthermore, if your company was declaring bankruptcy, your public adjuster would help you get your piece of the pie. A public adjuster would give clients peace of mind after such an ordeal and allow them to focus on healing.

One key take-away

Be prepared! Today, we have all of our documents stored electronically on our side and the insurance company’s side so there is no way your paperwork could have burned up. But imagine if your loved ones were left with the responsibility of dealing with the paperwork and they had no idea which company insured your property? Or imagine having to itemize all of your personal possessions after a trauma like this. Have all your ducks in a row beforetragedy strikes. List your personal property with values and ages in advance. Keep all of your documents secured in a fire safe box or in the cloud and accessible to your loved ones.

Robert L. McCormack Public Adjusters, Inc. has more than fifty years in the insurance adjusting field and an A+ rating from the Better Business Bureau. We have adjusted every type of property claim there is: fire, storms, water, robbery, you name it. Licensed in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Florida, and Texas, we can handle your claim from start to finish. Contact us today via email or telephone 508-588-4243.

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