1944 Hartford Circus Fire: Tent Burned “Like Tissue Paper”

The August 1944 issue of Fire Engineering HERE included the article “Hartford Circus Catastrophe,” which describes how an orderly circus tent evacuation became a deadly panic at the cry of “Fire!” Combined with a fast-spreading fire and barriers to escape, the result was fatal for many.

Even so, one quick-thinking boy did his part to expedite escape for others. See “Orchids to Donald” in the August 1944 issue HERE.

In the same issue, this fire and others in Detroit (“Firebug Confesses Setting Costly Fire,” one dead) HERE, Denver (“Denver Amusement Park Tragedy,” six dead) HERE, and Baltimore (“Fire Razes Oriole Base Ball Park,” no deaths) HERE motivated officials to reexamine their local fire prevention codes.

In “Responsibility of Fire Chiefs for Safety of Public” (August 1944), the fire marshal of Ontario urged chiefs to take the lead in ensuring safety in public places HERE.

In the February 1945 issue, “Coroner’s Findings in Circus Fire” summarized the coroner’s report HERE. It held certain officials and employees of Ringling Brothers and  Barnum & Bailey Circus were guilty of criminal negligence, but also noted that there was no duty imposed on the fire, police, or building departments to inspect circuses “under canvas” in the city of Hartford.


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