Last Friday, our local news reported a fire in a 200 year old historic building in Boonsboro, MD, a hotel that was under renovation. I knew instantly that this was the hotel Nora Roberts had purchased. She’d had these wonderful plans to decorate each of the six rooms with some romance theme featuring literary couples, like, Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy.

Read more about this here and see the horrific photos.

My heart goes out to Nora and the town of Boonsboro for this loss, but knowing Nora, she’ll find a way to rebuild.

I started thinking about fire in “our” period. How easy it must have been for fires to start when the heating, cooking, and lighting was by flame.

Here is an account of a fire from the 1814 Annual Register:

January 19, 1814
Fire in St. Paul’s Churchyard
About a quarter past six o’clock yesterday morning, a fire was discovered by foot-passengers in St. Paul’s Churchyard, who knocked violently for a time, but none of the family of Mr. Biggs was made to hear. At length the door was forced, when the flames burst out with such fury, to prevent anyone from alarming the family upstairs, but which at length was done by the ringing of the bells, and crying out “fire, fire.” Mrs. Biggs with an infant in her arms, and a servant maid, got first out of the house…the feelings of the mother were too much alive for the safety of her other five children, to admit of a moment’s delay, and it is supposed that she would have returned and rushed into the flames in search of them, had she not fainted dead away…So rapid were the flames on this unfortunate occasion, that no other person except a servant with another of Mrs. Bigg’s children succeeded in getting out the door by the door. We have accounted for only two of Mrs. Bigg’s six children, the eldest of whom, a son, was only nine years of age.

How terribly sad this is. I can feel the emotions of that poor mother at such a time.

Another terrible mishap was the occurance of clothing catching fire. Woman were most at risk with their long dresses. Gillray (1802) satirizes this in his Advantages of Muslin Dresses

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow grew his beard after being scarred trying to save his wife when her dress caught fire from a match.

Two famous fires near “our” time period:

1809 fire destroying Drury Lane theatre, owned at the time by Richard Brinsley Sheridan, who sat at a nearby inn, watching the building devoured by flames. He quipped, “It was hard if a man could not drink a glass of wine by his own fire.”

Burning of Washington, in 1814.

Dolly Madison’s courage in rescuing the portrait of George Washington from the White House made a big impression on me as a child, so much so I named my favorite doll after her.

I’ve never been in a fire. When I was seven and we lived in Japan where my father was stationed, a dog kennel caught fire nearby and we could see the flames from our house. The fear of the fire spreading was very real. In more recent years a co-worker’s house was destroyed by fire after the oil in a pan caught fire and quickly spread.

Have you ever been in a fire?
Do you think, as I do, that burning candles is too much of a fire risk to be worth it?