Fire Prevention Week: Working smoke alarms save lives

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By Kelly Robertson
Special to The PREVIEW

Fire Prevention Week is Oct. 5-11. This year’s theme is “Working Smoke Alarms Save Lives! Test Yours Every Month!”

Fire Prevention Week was established to commemorate the Great Chicago Fire, the tragic 1871 conflagration that killed more than 250 people, left 100,000 homeless, destroyed more than 17,400 structures and burned more than 2,000 acres. The fire began on Oct. 8, but continued into, and did most of its damage, on Oct. 9, 1871.

According to popular legend, the fire broke out after a cow belonging to Mrs. Catherine O’Leary kicked over a lamp, setting first the barn, then the whole city, on fire.

Chances are you’ve heard some version of this story yourself; people have been blaming the Great Chicago Fire on the cow and Mrs. O’Leary for more than 130 years.

But recent research by a Chicago historian has helped to debunk this version of events. Mrs. O’Leary herself swore that she went to bed early that night, and that the cows were also tucked in for the evening. But if a cow wasn’t to blame for the huge fire, what was?

The anniversary of the Great Chicago Fire should be observed not with festivities, but in a way that would keep the public informed about the importance of fire prevention.