From The Writer’s Almanac:
The Great Fire of London started on this date in 1666. The fire broke out near London Bridge, at the house of Thomas Farynor, the king’s baker. One of his workers awoke at two in the morning to the smell of smoke, and the family fled over the rooftops. The blaze spread rapidly, helped by strong winds and drought conditions. Samuel Pepys, who lived nearby, took matters into his own hands and went to Whitehall to inform King Charles II of the situation. Pepys then went home to evacuate his own household and join the throngs of escaping Londoners choking the streets and the River Thames. He reported digging a hole to bury “[his] Parmazan cheese as well as [his] wine and some other things,” and contemplated ways to slow or stop the blaze. “Blowing up houses … stopped the fire when it was done, bringing down the houses in the same places they stood, and then it was easy to quench what little fire was in it.”
It was the worst fire in London’s history. It burned for four days and destroyed 80 percent of the city: most civic buildings, more than 13,000 homes, and nearly 90 churches, including St. Paul’s Cathedral, whose lead roof melted and flowed away down Ludgate Hill. A catastrophic fire of this sort was inevitable, really; the buildings were made of timber and pitch, and the lanes were narrow and crowded; overhanging upper stories nearly touched their counterparts across the way. Remarkably, there were only four reported casualties, although the death toll was probably much higher. There was one positive outcome from the fire, though: It may have halted the progress of the plague, which had been ravaging the city for the past few years. The rats and their disease-carrying fleas perished in large numbers.
Within days of the fire, architects Christopher Wren and Robert Hooke, and diarist John Evelyn, had all submitted plans for the rebuilding of the city; all of them called for making the streets more regular. In the end, almost all the original layout of the city was preserved, although the streets were widened. Wren was given the task of rebuilding 50 of the churches, including St. Paul’s Cathedral, which remains one of his masterpieces.
Cf. Seattle …