How Many People Died in the Chicago Fire?

March 21, 2024

Corey Sorenson's tragic death on Chicago Fire made him the show's first real-life firefighter victim. The episode also prompted many people to ask, "How many people died in the chicago fire?"

On October 8, 1871, a raging fire broke out in the heart of Chicago. It would burn for 36 hours, destroy 17,000 buildings, and kill an estimated 300 people. It also left 100,000 homeless. It was the greatest disaster in the city's early history. It helped give rise to a new city government, strict building and fire codes, and the "Great Rebuilding" effort.

The city's buildings were largely made of wood with flammable shingle roofs. The weather was perfect for a fire, with hot and dry winds carrying sparks and embers from one burning structure to the next. It didn't help that the small fire department was spread too thinly to respond quickly to each call for help. The rumor that a cow kicked over a lantern started the fire isn't true, though.

A large percentage of the deaths were caused by smoke inhalation. Other causes of death were heat stroke, drowning in the muddy river, and burns. The raging fire also swept through the city's business district, destroying the St. Paul's Church, the Cook County Courthouse, and a number of other structures.

Only the Chicago River, Lake Michigan, stretches of vacant lots on the north side, and some rainfall halted the wave of destruction on October 10. The fire was so extensive that it became almost impossible to travel across the city. Many bodies were disfigured by the fire, making sex identification difficult. Most of the victims were found on the narrow, dead end streets near the Chicago Avenue bridge and the river.


Tornado Dave is the best place to learn more about severe weather and climate science. He's a veritable tornado of information, and he loves nothing more than educating others about the importance of being prepared for extreme weather events. Make sure to check in with Tornado Dave often, as he's always updating his blog with the latest news and information!
linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram