Boston Daily Evening Transcript, October 9, 1871
Chicago, Oct. 8
Tonight is the most awful night in the annals of the city. The fire, which commenced at 10 p.m., has already swept over a space three times as large as that of last night and it is still rushing on with greater fury than has marked any stage of the progress. The engines appearing almost powerless. Fire Marshal Williams has just telegraphed to Milwaukee for all the steamers they can spare.
The conflagration has already devastated at least 20 blocks, mostly composed of smaller class dwellings inhabited by poor people. Not less than three hundred buildings are entirely destroyed and more than that number of families have been rendered homeless. The wind is blowing almost a gale from the south and a number of sparks and brands are sweeping over the city and threatening destruction on every hand. Since this report commenced, two additional alarms have been struck, and the tower on the courthouse caught fire from the dying brands, but was extinguished by the watchman in the tower. No description can give an adequate idea of the terrible scene.
The fire started in a row of wooden tenements on De Koven Street, between Jefferson and Clinton, and as was the case last night spread with terrible rapidity.
Before a single engine could get on the ground, and the block is in flames and burning furiously. The entire department were soon on the ground and at work. For a time it seemed probable that they would succeed in continuing it to four or five blocks.
The wind was blowing fiercely when the fire started and increased to s gasle, an suddenly the flames seemed to spread in every direction, becoming beyond the control of the Fire Department.
The fire is still raging with increased fury, and has spread almost with the velocity of the wind, and has now reached West Monroe street, a distance of more than a mile from where it started, and covers a breadth of nearly half a mille, reaching from the river to Jefferson street.
The district already burned embraces an immense number of lumber yards and freight depots of the Chicago & St. Louis and Pittsburg Fort Wayne & Chicago railroads.
The property already destroyed counts up many millions of dollars, and perhaps the half is not told. The task of arresting the flames now seems five-fold greater than an hour ago, and no one dare venture an opinion as to when or where it will stop.
The fire tonight is the most terrible in the annals of Chicago. It has already swept over twenty blocks, and is still raging with unabated fury under a fierce southern gale. The city is in a panic and the people are rushing to and fro in the streets in terrible excitement.
Trains have been sent to the neighboring cities for steam fire engines, as our force is powerless. The fire has now extended a mile from where it started, De Koven street, and has reached the telegraph office opposite the Court House, and is a mile wide.
The telegraph office is threatened with destruction. One of the finest blocks in the city opposite that office is now on fire. The fire has crossed the Chicago River. The wind has spread the flames in all directions.
2.10 A.M. The flames are raging with increased fury in every direction, and God’s mercy can only save the city from utter destruction. A fearful panic prevails all through the streets, where the people are rushing to and from and weeping and waiting.
The fire is approaching the Telegraph Office and it will probably have soon to be vacated. Brands from the fire were blown across to the east side of the river and set a wooden building on fire directly adjoining the Chicago has (gas) house, and the flames spread in every direction among the adjoinings. The prospects are that the gas house house will be destroyed and the city wrapped in darkness.
A terrible panic is prevailing throughout the city. Almost everybody—men, women and children—are in the streets. It now looks as if the whole city might be destroyed. Large numbers of lives have been lost, but how many cannot be known until the progress of the fire has been arrested.
The alarm-bell has just commenced ringing an increasing, peal which is intended to call every sleeper from his bed. The panic is increasing and the people seem almost crazy with alarm. The vessels in the river are catching fire in every direction, and all on the south side will probably be destroyed.
A raging, roaring hell of fire envelopes twenty blocks of the city. It is already scorching the block of the telegraph office where this despatch is written, and =sweeping onward, a whirlwind of flames against which human efforts are fruitless, and it is impossible to tell where it will stop. The bridge across Van Buren street is burned. The cars on the track of the Chicago & Alton and Firt Wayne railroads, with the freight houses, are swept away.
Thousands of people fill the streets, rushing out of their dwellings, in many instances barely in time to save their lives. The block immediately across the street from the telegraoh office, one of the finest in the city, is now in flames.
2:15 A.M. The operators are leaving the Western Union Telegraph Office, but will probably open communications at some other point in the city.