The Worst Human Stampedes

1903 Iroquois Theatre Fire

1903 Iroquois Theatre Fire is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list The Worst Human Stampedes

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The worst single building fire in US history, the Iroquois Theatre fire was caused by a lethal combination of lax fire protection, poor safety standards, overcrowding, and primitive firefighting technology. A massive crowd, mainly women and children, had gone to a holiday show at the Chicago theater in December, 1903. When a stage light burst and ignited a muslin curtain, and the fire quickly engulfed the highly flammable curtains stored above the stage.

The panicked crowd tried to flee through the exit doors, but found they were fastened with complicated locks, and opened inward. Hundreds were crushed, and others were burned or suffocated by fireballs caused by cold air hitting superheated air. Some fell to their death from narrow, unfinished fire escapes. When the carnage finally was over, 602 people had died and hundreds of others were injured. The fire caused a complete overhaul of safety standards in the US – along with arrests of the theater manager and the Mayor of Chicago.

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