Great Atlanta fire of 1917
The Great Atlanta
Atlanta, Georgia
Atlanta is the capital and most populous city in the U.S. state of Georgia. According to the 2010 census, Atlanta's population is 420,003. Atlanta is the cultural and economic center of the Atlanta metropolitan area, which is home to 5,268,860 people and is the ninth largest metropolitan area in...

 Fire of 1917
began just after noon on Monday, May 21 and was finally extinguished by 10 PM. Destroyed were 300 acre
The acre is a unit of area in a number of different systems, including the imperial and U.S. customary systems. The most commonly used acres today are the international acre and, in the United States, the survey acre. The most common use of the acre is to measure tracts of land.The acre is related...

s (much of the Fourth
Fourth Ward (Atlanta)
-1874:A new city charter increased the radius of the city from one to one and a half miles, reduced the number of wards back to five and created a bi-cameral council of two councilmen from each ward and a second body of three at-large aldermen was established....

Atlanta ward system
From its incorporation in 1848, the municipal boundaries Atlanta, Georgia were extended repeatedly from a small area around its railroad station to today's city covering .Prior to 1954, Atlanta was divided into political divisions called wards...

), including nearly 2,000 homes, businesses and churches, and 10,000 people were displaced. There was only one fatality, a woman who suffered a heart attack after her home burnt to the ground. Losses totalled $5.5 million.

The Day of the Fire

It was a clear, warm and sunny day with a brisk breeze from the south. This was not the only fire of the day, but the fourth call in the span of an hour: a small fire at the Candler Warehouse across the tracks from West End
West End (Atlanta)
The West End neighborhood of Atlanta is on the National Register of Historic Places and can be found southwest of Castleberry Hill, east of Westview, west of Adair Park Historic District, and just north of Oakland City...

 at 11:39 AM; at 11:43 a fire seven blocks north that destroyed three houses; and at 12:15, south of the Georgia Railroad from the big fire, ten homes were destroyed before being extinguished. At 12:46 a call came from a small warehouse just north of Decatur Street between Fort and Hilliard, and the crew sent to inspect it found a stack of burning mattresses, but had no firefighting equipment with them. If the fire department had not been spread across so many different parts of the city already, the fire would have been put out there; but by the time reinforcements arrived, it was quickly leaping north.

The Great Fire

The fire spread quickly up to Edgewood Avenue and from there throughout the main residential areas of Sweet Auburn
Sweet Auburn
The Sweet Auburn Historic District is a historic African-American neighborhood along Auburn Avenue in Atlanta, Georgia. The name Sweet Auburn was coined by John Wesley Dobbs, referring to the "richest Negro street in the world". The Sweet Auburn district includes:*the Martin Luther King, Jr...

, sparing little. Unfortunately, the area between Decatur and Edgewood was crammed with shanties
Shanty may refer to:* Ice shanty, a portable shed placed on a frozen lake* Sea shanty, shipboard working songs* Shanty Hogan , Major League Baseball catcher* Shanty town, unit of irregular, low-cost dwellings...

 and lean-tos, which provided fuel to build the fire very strong and fast.

A corridor was burned due north between Jackson (now Parkway and Charles Allen
Charles L. Allen
Charles Livingstone Allen was an American ordained Methodist minister most notable for his work as a Pastor.Born in Newborn, Georgia, he ministered around the state, including 1948 to 1960 at Grace United Methodist in Atlanta...

) and Boulevard, with a few prominent bulges at Highland and just south of Ponce de Leon Avenue. At Houston Street, the fire was still being stopped on the east by Boulevard (just sparing John Wesley Dobbs
John Wesley Dobbs
John Wesley Dobbs , an African American civic and political leader, was often referred to as unofficial 'mayor' of Auburn Avenue in Atlanta, Georgia....

' block). When the fire reached Highland, it raced both east and west through many fine homes. Around 4:00 in the afternoon, fire-fighters had begun to stall the fire by using dynamite
Dynamite is an explosive material based on nitroglycerin, initially using diatomaceous earth , or another absorbent substance such as powdered shells, clay, sawdust, or wood pulp. Dynamites using organic materials such as sawdust are less stable and such use has been generally discontinued...

 to destroy many homes along Pine, Boulevard and finally Ponce de Leon.

By nightfall the fire crossed Ponce. While reduced, it headed north through the recently built-out neighborhood along St. Charles, Vedado Way and Greenwood Avenue. It finally stopped at 10 PM, more than a mile north of where it had begun.

In eleven hours, 22,000,000 gallons of water were pumped to put out the fire. Additional fire trucks had been sent from nine Georgia towns (as far away as Macon
Macon, Georgia
Macon is a city located in central Georgia, US. Founded at the fall line of the Ocmulgee River, it is part of the Macon metropolitan area, and the county seat of Bibb County. A small portion of the city extends into Jones County. Macon is the biggest city in central Georgia...

 and Augusta
Augusta, Georgia
Augusta is a consolidated city in the U.S. state of Georgia, located along the Savannah River. As of the 2010 census, the Augusta–Richmond County population was 195,844 not counting the unconsolidated cities of Hephzibah and Blythe.Augusta is the principal city of the Augusta-Richmond County...

), as well as from Chattanooga
Chattanooga, Tennessee
Chattanooga is the fourth-largest city in the US state of Tennessee , with a population of 169,887. It is the seat of Hamilton County...

 and Knoxville
Knoxville, Tennessee
Founded in 1786, Knoxville is the third-largest city in the U.S. state of Tennessee, U.S.A., behind Memphis and Nashville, and is the county seat of Knox County. It is the largest city in East Tennessee, and the second-largest city in the Appalachia region...

 in Tennessee
Tennessee is a U.S. state located in the Southeastern United States. It has a population of 6,346,105, making it the nation's 17th-largest state by population, and covers , making it the 36th-largest by total land area...

. 1,938 buildings were destroyed over 300 acres (1.2 km²) spanning 73 city blocks. Fires smoldered for the rest of the week.


Since more than 85% of the destroyed buildings had wood shingles
Roof shingle
Roof shingles are a roof covering consisting of individual overlapping elements. These elements are typically flat rectangular shapes laid in rows from the bottom edge of the roof up, with each successive higher row overlapping the joints in the row below...

, the city quickly passed an ordinance banning them for new construction. By 1931 all older buildings had replaced the shingles. In the history of the city, only Sherman's fire of 1864 did more extensive damage.

Rebuilding was sporadic, with large swaths kept open for years. Commercial strips were quickly built on the destroyed portions of Edgewood and Auburn where busy streetcar routes ran: 17 and 3 respectively. Where large estates with spacious front yards had been, along the entire stretch of Boulevard up to Ponce, dozens of two- and three-storey apartment buildings that hugged the sidewalk were built. Large open spaces were left at what is now the King Memorial
Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site
Martin Luther King, Jr., National Historic Site established on October 10, 1980, consists of several buildings surrounding Martin Luther King, Jr.'s boyhood home on Auburn Avenue in the Sweet Auburn historic district of Atlanta, Georgia. The original Ebenezer Baptist Church, the church where King...

 and at Bedford-Pine Park, now named Central Park
Central Park (Atlanta)
Central Park is a 17.37 acre park in the Old Fourth Ward neighborhood of Atlanta, Georgia. It was known as Bedford-Pine Park prior to 1999. The open space was created as a result of the Great Atlanta fire of 1917. The Music Midtown festival was held here in the early 2000s....

 (host of Music Midtown
Music Midtown
Music Midtown was a large music festival held in Atlanta, Georgia from 1994 to 2005. It is once again resurrected for 2011.The festival ran on one weekend each year from 1994 to 2005. The event drew in excess of 300,000 attendees per year during its peak years. Music Midtown started as a two-day...

 in the 2000s).

Low-income housing developments were built in the destroyed extreme southern section and the areas south of North Avenue
North Avenue (Atlanta)
North Avenue in Atlanta is a major avenue in Atlanta that divides Downtown Atlanta from Midtown Atlanta. North Avenue stretches continuously in Atlanta from Candler Park in the east, across Interstate 75 & Interstate 85, along the southern boundary of the Georgia Institute of Technology, to Joseph E...

. Some 50 acres (202,343 m²) around Boulevard and Highland were eventually developed as the campus for Atlanta Medical Center. Except for where single family homes were quickly rebuilt north of Ponce de Leon, the character of this large area of Atlanta was changed forever.
The next U.S. fire of more significance wouldn't occur for more than 70 years: The Oakland Hills firestorm of 1991.
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