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U.S. Fire Administration
On the afternoon of July 6th, 1944 the main tent of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey matinee circus show caught fire and in just a few minutes caused the deaths of 163 individuals, mostly women and children. Some 260 others suffered injuries and severe burns. The fire started on the outside canvas of the tent, about 20 feet from the main exit. Conditions outside were very dry and it is believed that the fire may have been started by a discarded match or cigarette igniting tall grass nearby. The highly incendiary nature of the fire, which consumed the tent in its entirety within less than ten minutes, was attributable in large part to the canvas material which had not been made fire-resistant. This fact, coupled with the grossly inadequate provision of unobstructed exits, led to the grievous loss of life.
Code changes - this event led to implementation of flame retardant treatments for tents.
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Page Last Updated: August 29th, 2011