Introducing "Damrell's Fire"

On a mild November weekend in 1872, a spark in a downtown basement turned Boston into a firestorm. In less than twenty hours, the fire reduced the city’s commercial center to sixty-five acres of rubble. Its destructive ferocity still ranks with the Chicago Fire of 1871 as one of the country’s worst. But the Boston Fire was different. Its loss of thirty people, while tragic, paled beside Chicago’s three hundred dead and one hundred thousand homeless. Boston credited its deliverance, to John S. Damrell, its courageous Fire Chief, who directed the defense that saved the city’s densely-populated neighborhoods from Chicago’s fate, and would forever change firefighting history.

View the broadcast trailer for the film

Fires in the decade after the Civil War caused more urban destruction than did the war itself. After Portland burning, then Chicago, then Boston, the nation did not need another conflagration to make the case for fire prevention. It needed leadership. Elevated into national prominence by the 1872 fire, Damrell launched a nationwide crusade to stop cities from burning down. It would be a long hard fight against dangerous myths, entrenched interests, and moribund politicians. But, in the end, Damrell would win this fight. Moreover, his struggle would ultimately shift the nation's focus from saving not only property, but lives.

Federal Street ruins Dept Heads 1867 Paul Chirstian

This is the story of "Damrell's Fire," an hour-long documentary on the extraordinary life of John S. Damrell and the fire that changed firefighting forever. Fueled by a dream of secure cities and a passion to save lives, Damrell had his own fire inside. His vision, energy, skill, and dedication over the next thirty years would help spare 20th century urban America, and save countless thousands, from the flames that terrorized the times.

Keith Morgan Winthrop Square Roof fire

To help tell this story, our film company, Docema, constructed a virtual model of 1872 Boston, street-by-street, block-by-block, building-by-building, and in some cases, floor-by-floor. Our comprehensive research and meticulous rendering allow us to bring viewers in, around, and over the streets of Boston at the time of The Great Fire. Experts illuminate the manners and morals of the times and 1872 witnesses themselves describe the catastrophic event through testimony to the Commission investigating the fire.


Amoskeag Engine Robert Allison Summer Street 3D

Docema enlisted the talents of filmmakers, researchers, programmers, educators, artists and historians to create an accurate, comprehensive and engaging documentary film. The film "Damrell's Fire" features rare photographs and color lithographs of 19th century Boston, richly detailed 3D digitally recreated scenes, and original soundtrack all presented in widescreen 16:9 digital format. Additionally, the "Damrell's Fire" website, includes additional research and educational resources for scholars, students, and history buffs.

The film "Damrell's Fire" aired on national public television stations in April 2006 in both standard and High Definition (HD) format. Docema also produced a two-DVD set featuring the film in 16:9 widescreen digital format with bonus material. The set is now available for online ordering.

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