6 June 1889

The Great Seattle Fire destroys all of downtown Seattle

The Great Seattle Fire was a catastrophic event that occurred on June 6, 1889, and resulted in the destruction of the entire downtown area of Seattle, Washington.

Cause of the Fire: The fire started in the basement of a woodworking shop and paint store owned by John Back. A pot of glue, which was heating over a gasoline fire, boiled over and caught fire. Attempts to extinguish it with water only spread the fire, and it quickly grew out of control.

Spread of the Fire: The fire spread rapidly due to the abundance of wooden buildings and the use of sawdust-filled streets. The city’s water supply was also inadequate to fight such a large fire, and firefighters had difficulty accessing the few available water sources.

Extent of Damage: The fire destroyed approximately 25 city blocks, including the entire business district, four of the city’s wharves, and numerous residential areas. The estimated damage was over $20 million in 1889 dollars (equivalent to about $600 million today).

Rebuilding Efforts: The city quickly began to rebuild, this time using brick and stone to prevent future fires. New building codes were implemented, and the streets were raised 22 feet above the original street level. This led to the creation of the Seattle Underground, a network of underground passageways and basements that still exist today.

Impact on Seattle: Despite the devastation, the fire spurred a period of rapid growth and development in Seattle. The rebuilding efforts attracted workers and businesses, helping to establish Seattle as a major economic center in the Pacific Northwest.

Historical Significance: The Great Seattle Fire is a significant event in the city’s history, marking a turning point in its development. The fire and the subsequent rebuilding efforts are often credited with shaping modern Seattle.