Sunday, 8 December 2013

Chile: the world's deadliest fire in a single building - 150th anniversary

On this day............150 years ago, the Chilean capital, Santiago, was the scene of perhaps the world's deadliest fire in a single building.  It happened in the church of La Campania on December 8, 1863 and up to 2,000 people perished.

The building was packed for a religious festival, and was 'hung from roof to floor with floating gauze and rich drapery'. There were also 'innumerable' paraffin lamps. A few, at the foot of a giant statue of the Virgin Mary, set fire to some fabric.

The flames spread through the building in no time and people rushed for the exits.  Women and girls fainted and were trampled to death, and soon the exits were so crammed with bodies that no one could get out.

Melting lead from the roof and burning oil from the lamps fell on the desperate congregation, and finally a huge bell came crashing down. At the time, the city had no organised fire brigade, but the disaster provided the necessary spur.  For the full story, see A Disastrous History of the World.

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