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On This Day



On This Day… One Of The Worst Fires In U S History

Written by: Peter Fishlock : 06 Jul 2019

It was on this day, 6th July back in 1944 when one of the worst fires in the history of the United States broke out, the Hartford circus fire. It occurred during the afternoon performance of the Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus. The big top tent the circus used could seat 9,000 spectators around its three rings, and when it went up in flames during the afternoon performance approximately 7,000 people were enjoying the show. Tragically, the audience were largely made up of women and children, due to the fact that many American men were fighting overseas in WWII. Unfortunately the canvas tent had been treated with paraffin wax to waterproof it, a shocking 6,000 gallons of petrol had been used during the waterproofing process, which as you can imagine seriously aided the spread of the fire.

The fire started on the southwest sidewall of the tent during the Great Wallendas performance. It was first spotted by Circus bandleader Merle Evans who immediately signalled for the band to play "The Stars and Stripes Forever", which was the pre-planned song to signal to all of the circus personnel that they had a serious problem. The Ringmaster Fred Bradna attempted to calm the crowds but the power failed on his microphone and he couldn’t be heard. The paraffin wax helped the fire spread rapidly, and many people were injured by melting paraffin which was dripping down from the roof. It took around eight minutes for the tent to collapse, and when it did, it trapped hundreds of spectators beneath it. The fire cost the lives of 167 people and injured hundreds more.

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