Fire history: Kanto earthquake and Tokyo conflagration

Blog Post created by maryelizabethwoodruff Employee on May 11, 2015

The NFPA News Letter, started in 1916, was designed to be a "regular vehicle of more frequent communication between the executive office and the members".  In a 1935 issue, a call was posted for members to donate information about "reports of fire of outstanding interest…" and a few months later there was an update listing several resources that had been donated, including Boris Laiming's donation of his report on the Tokyo conflagration following the Kanto Earthquake of 1923.
Mr. Laiming addressed the National Board of Fire Underwriters (NBFU) and described the earthquake and resulting fires.  His report begins: "At 11.58 (noon) September 1, 1923, a seismic disturbance of great
severity occurred in the area adjacent to the cities of Tokyo and Yokohama, Japan."   The earthquake had an estimated Richter magnitude of 7.9 and resulted in nearly 143,000 deaths, primarily due to fire.  According to Mr. Laiming, Tokyo fire department records indicate that 81 fires were burning within 9 minutes of the earthquake and within 30 minutes it is estimated that 122 separate fires were burning.  Groups of individual fires gradually developed into 12 different fires, all of which but one in the Kojimachi Ward, finally connected into one large conflagration which swept over approximately 15 square miles in about 16 hours.

Map2The Charles S. Morgan Library supports the research activities and maintains the archive of NFPA.  In the Library, we have an inscribed copy of Mr. Laiming's report to the NBFU, delivered November 1923, which includes hand annotated maps and photographs documenting the devastation in Tokyo.  The map at left depicts the fire department efforts to control the fires near Hibyia Park and the Imperial Theater, in the Kojimaehi Ward.  Learn more about the Library and Archives, our resources, and services.