Chicago averaged about two fires a day the previous year, including twenty in the preceding week

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The Great Chicago Fire
Besides the fact that the Great Chicago Fire started around 9 o'clock on Sunday evening, October 8, 1871, somewhere in or very near the O'Leary barn, the exact particulars of its origins are unknown. But, given the dry summer and the careless way the city had been built and managed, a kick from a cow would have been sufficient but by no means necessary to burn Chicago down. As A.T. Andreas, the city's leading nineteenth-century historian, put it, "Nature had withheld her accustomed measure of prevention, and man had added to the peril by recklessness."

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