Today in fire history: Conflagration wreaks havoc on ancient Japanese city 

Blog Post created by averzoni Employee on Mar 2, 2017

Today marks the 360th anniversary of one of the deadliest fires in history. On March 2, 1657, a fire began in Edo, Japan—what is now Tokyo—that would destroy almost two-thirds of the city and kill thousands. Death toll estimates range from 30,000 to 200,000, but tend to hover around 100,000.


Details on the Great Fire of Meireki, as it’s known, are scarce. But according to at least one source, a book on the history of tuberculosis in Japan, it began after a Buddhist priest set fire to a kimono whose three previous owners died after showing signs of tuberculosis. (TB is an unlikely cause of these deaths, if they happened at all, since clothing doesn’t carry the disease, according to the CDC.)


The fire then spread rapidly through the city, which housed structures made of wood and paper that were “bone-dry” at the time because of a drought, according to a book on disaster education and management. The fire reportedly smoldered for three days, and in its aftermath, the Japanese military government of the time, the shogunate, implemented new safety measures to thwart future catastrophic fires, such as building wider roads and embankments to act as firebreaks and relocating temples and other important buildings to the outskirts of the city.