Sponsored by the
U.S. Fire Administration
In the nineteenth century, Portland, Maine was a significant east coast seaport. On July the Fourth, 1866, a firecracker ignited a boat-building shop on Commercial Street. The flames spread rapidly, following a diagonal path across the city’s built-up districts. In the fire’s path stood warehouses, churches, mansions, tradesman’s homes, and the dwellings of the poor. Blocks of buildings were consumed through the afternoon, evening, and well into the night until early morning.
The fire’s hungry romp ended near Munjoy Hill. An estimated 1,500 buildings were laid to waste over fifty-eight streets, leaving a ghostly scene of free-standing walls and chimneys. Ten thousand people were without homes and millions of dollars worth of property destroyed.
Lasting impact : Many under-capitalized fire insurance companies could not cover the losses to the properties they had under underwritten. Larger fire insurance companies, from out of state stepped up to cover the losses and avert a crisis of confidence in the fire insurance industry. Out of this effort came the impetus to create local boards of fire underwriters to bring some uniformity to the underwriting of fire risks and eventually the NBFU or National Board of Fire Underwriters.
Read more about this fire online including eyewitness accounts:
Reference: Title: A Spark Lighted in Portland: The Record of the National Board of Fire Underwriters, Author: A. L. Todd, Publisher: New York, McGraw-Hill Book Co. (1966)