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Phone: (443) 287-9960 | Fax (443) 287-9920
| January 12, 2004
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: Glenn Small
A Howling Inferno: The Great Baltimore Fire
Professor Delves into the City's Worst Disaster
Within an hour of the start of the Great Baltimore Fire on Feb. 7, 1904,
the fire chief of the city was struck by a sparking electrical wire and
incapacitated for most of the 30-hour blaze. Instead of an experienced
fire chief leading the battle to contain the worst fire in Baltimore's
history, the job fell to the department's district engineer and the city's
energetic young mayor.
Elected at age 35, Robert McLane was the youngest mayor in Baltimore's
history. The inexperienced McLane, a graduate of Johns Hopkins, stood
in the streets during the fire, cheering on the firefighters, said Pete
Petersen, a professor of management in SPSBE and author of the soon-to-be-published
book The Great Baltimore Fire (Maryland Historical Society, February,
"It was the macho thing to do, to be at the fire"-but perhaps,
Petersen said, not the smartest approach from a leadership point of view.
McLane failed to set up a communications command center, and as a result,
Petersen said, he was impossible to locate during the crisis.
One result was that mayors of other cities, including New York, were unable
to contact McLane to make sure he wanted those cities to send help. New
York did send firefighters, but that help "came late," Petersen
In a matter of hours, more than 70 blocks of downtown Baltimore, an area
equal in size to the Johns Hopkins Homewood campus, burned to the ground.
More than 1,500 buildings were lost in the blaze, and damage was estimated
at $150 million (in 1904 dollars).
Petersen spent four years researching and writing his 232-page work on
the fire, and spent many long hours in his office in the Downtown Center
at the corner of Fayette and Charles streets, with a view of the area
that was destroyed by the fire. He recently sat down to talk about the
book and the fire. Listen
in to Petersen describe his research.
(Real Networks offers a free version of their player, if your computer
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To read more about this, read
the press release.
You'll need a RealPlayer to watch or listen to these audio
and video presentations. RealPlayer8 Basic is available for free here.
If you have any problems viewing these presentations or
downloading the RealPlayer, please contact Glenn Small at,
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