Fire history: Kobe earthquake and fire

Blog Post created by maryelizabethwoodruff Employee on Jan 17, 2015


On Tuesday January 17th, 1995 a 20 second earthquake measuring 6.8 on the Richter Scale occurred near the Japanese port of Kobe, about 500 km (311 mi) southwest of Tokyo.   The quake killed more than  6,000 people, injured at least 30,000 and left more than 300,000 people homeless.   More than 100,000 buildings were severely damaged or destroyed by the quake and the fires it caused.  148 separate fires destroyed 6,513 buildings.

Kobe5Several factors influenced the spread of fire immediately after the earthquake and in the days that followed.  For example, many of the structures involved were built of lightweight wood or bamboo covered with a thin layer of stucco that was not well secured.  Even if a building did not collapse, it often lost its outer layer of stucco.  When this happened, the underlying wood materials were exposed, creating a large combustible fuel load.

The 1995 Kobe earthquake was the worst to hit Japan since the 1923 Kanto earthquake, which had an estimated Richter magnitude of 7.9 and resulted in nearly 143,000 deaths, primarily due to fire.

The Charles S. Morgan Library supports the research activities and maintains the archive of NFPA.  Our collection includes several works relating to the Kobe earthquake including the fire investigations report, 2 NIST reports(also available online), and several books.  We also have a rare copy of a 1923 report by Boris Laiming to the NBFU on the 1923 Tokyo Conflagration.

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