How the Great Seattle Fire Transformed a City and Its Business District

The fire started on June 6, 1889 and raged for 18 hours
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  • The Great Seattle Fire in 1889

This article appears in print in the December 2018 issue. Click here for a free subscription.

The Great Seattle Fire started at 2:30 p.m. on June 6, 1889, in a cabinet shop at Front Street (now First Avenue) and Madison Street. Townspeople drawn to the spectacle likely never suspected the wind-driven fire would rage for 18 hours and destroy the city’s entire business district, its railway stations and four wharves. Incredibly, no one died.

Businesses reopened almost immediately inside tents, and reconstruction of the 25- to 30-block area, in many cases atop the rubble of former buildings, was virtually complete within a year. The fire changed Seattle dramatically: The city went from volunteer firefighters to a paid force; it built new firehouses and took control of its water system; and it required commercial structures to be built of more fire-resistant material, with masonry “division walls” between them.