On this day in 1871, flames sparked in the Chicago barn of Patrick and Catherine O’Leary, igniting a two-day blaze that killed between 200 and 300 people, destroyed 17,450 buildings, left 100,000 homeless and caused an estimated $200 million (in 1871 dollars; $3 billion in 2007 dollars) in damages. Legend has it that a cow kicked over a lantern in the O’Leary barn and started the fire, but other theories hold that humans or even a comet may have been responsible for the event that left four square miles of the Windy City, including its business district, in ruins. Dry weather and an abundance of wooden buildings, streets and sidewalks made Chicago vulnerable to fire. The city averaged two fires per day in 1870; there were 20 fires throughout Chicago the week before the Great Fire of 1871.
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