<% vol = 20 number = 2 prevlink = 89 nextlink = 104 titolo = "FIRE DISASTERS IN THE TWENTIETH CENTURY" volromano = "XX" data_pubblicazione = "June 2007" header titolo %>

Cavallini M., Papagni M.F., Baruffaldi Preis F.W.

Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery Operative Unit, IRCCS Galeazzi, Milan, Italy

SUMMARY. In the field of natural and man-made disasters, fire has played a predominant role. A report is presented of fire disasters in the twentieth century, with a chronological analysis of different worldwide typologies.


In the field of natural and man-made disasters, fire has played a predominant role.

The extrinsic effects of disasters caused by fire have progressively changed over the centuries, especially in the twentieth. As a result, owing to industrial, technological, and military development, as also to the increasing number of armed conflicts, there has also been a rapid change in the modalities and numbers of burn injuries.

For this reason a report is presented of fire disasters in the twentieth century, with a chronological analysis of different worldwide typologies.

From the classification point of view, as regards the data reported in the literature, a fire disaster is defined as an event involving more than 25 deaths. However, discrepancies exist as to the number of injuries in accidents.

Fire disasters from 1900 to 1969

The first accident in the period concerned occurred in 1900 in Hoboken, USA, with a high number of deaths (326) (Table I).

<% createTable "Table I ","Main fire disasters from 1900 to 1969.",";Date; Incident; Dead@;30.6.1900; USA, Hoboken, New Jersey. Port; 326@;20.9.1902; USA, Birmingham, Alabama. Church; 115@;30.12.1903; USA, Chicago. Iroquois Theatre; 602@;4.3.1908; USA, Collinwood, Ohio. School; 176@;13.1.1908; USA, Boyertown, Pennsylvania. Rhoads Theatre; 170@;25.3.1911; USA, New York. Plant; 145@;14.10.1913; Glamorgan, Wales. Mine; 439@;13.4.1918; USA, Norman, Oklahoma. Hospital; 38@;12.10.1918; USA, Cloquet, Minnesota. Forest fire; 400@;20.6.1919; Puerto Rico, San Juan. Mayaguez Theatre; 150@;17.5.1923; USA, Candem, South Carolina. School; 76@;24.12.1924; USA, Hobart, Oklahoma. School; 35@;15.5.1929; USA, Cleveland, Ohio. Clinic; 125@;24.7.1931; USA, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Nursing home; 48@;23.4.1940; USA, Natchez, Mississippi. Dance hall; 198@;12.12.1942; Canada, St John’s, Newfoundland. Hotel; 100@;7.9.143; USA, Houston. Gulf Hotel; 55@;9.7.1944; USA, Hartford. Ringling Circus; 168@;5.6.1946; USA, Chicago. La Salle Hotel; 61@;7.12.1946; USA, Atlanta. Winecoff Hotel; 119@;12.12.1946; USA, New-York. Plant; 37@;5.4.1949; USA, Effingham, Illinois. Hospital; 77@;7.1.1950; USA, Davenport, Iowa. Mercy Hospital; 41@;29.3.1953; USA, Largo, Florida. Nursing home; 35@;16.4.1953; USA, Chicago. Metallurgy plant; 35@;17.2.1957; USA, Warrenton, Missouri. Nursing home; 72@;1.12.1958; USA, Chicago. School; 95@;16.12.1958; Colombia, Bogota. Depot; 83@;12.3.1960; Korea, Pusan. Chemical plant; 68@;14.7.1960; Guatemala, Guatemala City. Hospital; 225@;13.11.1960; Syria, Amude. Cinema; 152@;17.12.1961; Brazil, Niteroi. Circus; 323@;4.5.1963; Senegal, Diourbel. Theatre; 64@;23.11.1963; USA, Fitchville, Ohio. Nursing home; 63 @;7.12.1966; Turkey, Erzurum. Barracks; 68@;22.5.1967; Belgium, Brussels. Depot; 322@;16.7.1967; USA, Jay, Florida. Prison; 37@;11.5.1968; India, Vijayawada. Saloon; 58 @;18.11.1968; Scotland, Glasgow. Plant; 24 @;2.12.1969; Canada, Notre Dame. Nursing home; 54","",4,300,true %>

The main reason for most of the disasters in the period was the lack of prevention and safety regulations. This is testified by certain accidents such as the fire in 1903 in the Iroquois Theatre in Chicago (602 deaths), where no fire system was installed, and the fire at Lakeview Elementary School in Ohio in 1908, when the absence of a fire detecting system and fire and safety equipment caused 176 deaths, mostly of children.

Hospitals were often involved in fires, including a case in 1929 in Cleveland, USA, due to the accidental burning of X-ray film, causing 123 deaths.

Accidents in nightclubs without safety regulations caused serious disasters, including one at the Coconut Grove nightclub in Boston in 1942, when 500 people died.

After the Second World War, industrial and econo-mic development, together with a progressive improvement in the quality of life, diversified the nature of fire disasters, and flammable liquids were more frequently involved. This is reflected in the great number of accidents in various parts of the world due to the explosion of oil depots, refineries, and vehicles transporting flammable materials.

There were significant and singular accidents in circuses, including one in 1944 in Connecticut, with 144 deaths and more than 450 injured, and one in 1965 in Niteroi (Brazil), with over 400 deaths and 600 injured.

These accidents demonstrate how the lack of prevention and safety regulations caused serious disasters. Fire was a constant and singular presence in hospitals, where the lack of prevention programmes and organized evacuation plans led to many burn accidents.

Fire disasters from 1970 to 1979

Wih regard to this decade it is possible to see the involvement of the entire world in diversified accidents (compared to the former period, when the USA and Europe were mainly involved). This has been attributed to changing political and social changes conditions (particularly as regards accidents in the UK during periods of racial protest) and to considerable increases in industrial productivity (Table II).

<% createTable "Table II ","Main fire disasters from 1970 to 1979.",";Date; Incident; Dead@;9.1.1970; USA, Marietta, Ohio. Nursing home; 27 @;1.11.1970; France, Grenoble. Dance hall.; 145@;20.12.1970; USA, Tucson, Arizona. Hotel; 28 @;6.3.1971; Switzerland, Burghoezli. Psychiatric clinic; 28@;20.4.1971; Thailand, Bangkok. Hotel; 24@;25.12.1971; South Korea, Seoul. Hotel; 162 @;5.7.1972; England, Sherborne. Hospital; 30 @;13.5.1972; Japan, Osaka. Night club; 116 @;6.2.1973; France, Paris. School; 21@;6.11.1973; Japan, Fukui. Train; 28@;29.11.1973; Japan, Kumamoto. Commercial centre; 107 @;2.12.1973; South Korea, Seoul. Theatre; 50 @;1.2.1974; Brazil, Sao Paulo. Bank; 189 @;30.6.1974; U.S.A, Port Chester, New York. Disco; 24@;3.11.1974; South Korea, Seoul. Disco; 88 @;12.12.1975; Saudi Arabia, Mina. Camping site; 138 @;24.10.1976; USA, New York. Social club ; 25@;25.2.1977; USSR, Moscow. Rossija Hotel ; 45 @;9.6.1977; Côte d’Ivoire, Abidjan. Night club; 41@;28.5.1977; USA, Southgate, Kentucky. Night club; 164@;14.11.1977; Philippines, Manila. Hotel ;47 @;14.7.1979; Spain, Saragossa. Hotel ;80 @;31.12.1979; Canada, Quebec, Chapais. Social club; 42","",4,300,true %>

Even if there was a reduction in the number of accidents, the failure to standardize all safety regulations caused serious disasters.

This decade saw the first approach to organized first-aid emergency plans, although no official project has been found in the literature.

Fire disasters from 1980 to 2000

Since the 1980s the diversity of reasons for burn accidents has been linked to various human activities - one which has increased considerably is the number of fire disasters caused by terrorist criminal activities (Table III).

<% createTable "Table III ","Main fire disasters from 1980 to 2000",";Date; Incident; Dead@;20.5.1980; Jamaica, Kingston. Nursing home; 157@;21.11.1980; USA, Las Vegas. Grand Hotel MGM; 84@;9.1.1981; USA, Keansburg, New Jersey. Hotel; 30@;13.2.1983; Italy, Turin. Cinema; 64@;17.12.1983; Spain, Madrid. Disco; 83@;21.4.1985; Philippines, Tabaco. Cinema; 44@;26.4.1985; Argentine, Buenos Aires. Hospital; 79@;11.5.1985; England, Bradford. Stadium; 53@;31.12.1986; Puerto Rico, Dupont. Hotel Plaza; 96@;6.5.1987; Northern China. Forest; 193@;17.11.1987; England, London. Underground; 30@;25.3.1990; USA, New York. Social club; 87@;10.10.1990; India, Ghatkesar. Train; 47@;28.12.1990; Bangladesh, Dacca. Textile plant; 55@;9.4.1991; Turkey, Istanbul. Coach.; 36@;6.5.1991; Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur. Fireworks plant; 150@;19.9.1991; Indonesia, Honai. Village; 38@;19.1.1993; Taiwan, Taipei. Restaurant; 30@;14.2.1993; China, Tanghsan. Shopping centre; 78@;19.4.1993; South Korea, Seoul. Hospital; 34@;19.4.1993; USA, Waco, Texas. Church; 72@;10.5.1993; Thailand, Bangkok. Toy factory; 240@;2.11.1993; Vietnam, Quang Nihn. Pipeline; 39@;19.11.1993; China, Kuiyong. Toy factory; 81@;13.12.1993; China, Fuzhou. Textile plant; 60@;20.8.1995; South Korea. Seoul. Penitentiary; 38@;28.10.1995; Azerbaigian, Baku. Underground; 300@;23.12.1995; India, Dabwali. Elementary school; 400@;18.3.1996; Philippines, Manila. Disco; 185@;28.3.1996; Indonesia, Bogor. Shopping centre; 78@;22.11.1996; Hong Kong. Shopping centre; 39@;23.2.1997; India, Baripada. Church ;164@;17.4.1997; Saudi Arabia, Mina. ; 343@;13.6.1997; India, New Delhi. Cinema; 60@;11.7.1997; Thailand, Pattaya. Hotel; 90@;29.9.1997; Chile, Colina. Hospital; 30@;29.10.1998; Sweden, Gotenborg. Disco; 70@;24.3.1999; Italy-France. Mont Blanc Tunnel; 40@;30.10.1999; South Korea, Inchon. Karaoke; 55@;13.5.2000; Netherlands, Enschede. Fireworks plant; 20","",4,300,true %>

Some examples are the terrorist attacks in Dublin (1981), Bologna (1985), Barcelona (1987), and London (1988), which were the most devastating to occur in Europe.

There have also been serious attacks in Palestine in recent years due to ethnic, political, and religious reasons.

Analysis shows an increase of fire disasters caused in different ways after air accidents, with a variety of injured persons involved (most of them burned).

Also in this period, fire disasters due to the explosion of flammable material constituted a considerable portion of the total number of accidents.

The worst fire disasters in the period 1980-2000 were in 1984 (LPG explosion in Mexico, with 550 deaths and 7000 people injured, of whom 625 were burned) and in 1989 (gas container explosion on a bridge following a railway accident in the Urals region, with 2200 deaths and 3000 injured, including 800 burned).

Despite improvements in rescue techniques and treatment in such emergencies, no specific organizational model for fire disasters has been identified.


Throughout history, fire has always played a fundamental though conflictual role. For if on the one hand fire has enabled mankind to improve the conditions of everyday life, affording protection and developing technology and industry, on the other hand it has represented a danger to be defended against.

This historical analysis of fire disasters in the twentieth century shows the need to devote more attention to the control and prevention of fire-related accidents. Currently few specific international organization assistance models for serious emergencies are available.

RESUME. Le feu a toujours joué un rôle important pour ce qui concerne les désastres soit naturels soit causés par l’homme. Les Auteurs présentent un rapport sur les désastres par feu qui se sont vérifiés pendant le vingtième siècle, avec une analyse chronologique des différentes typologies dans le monde.


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<% riquadro "This paper was received on 1 December 2006.
Address correspondence to: Dr Marco F. Papagni, Unità Operativa di Chirurgia Plastica e Ricostruttiva, IRCCS Galeazzi, Milan, Italy. E-mail: mpapagni@gmail.com" %>