Great Fire of London: Panoramic woodcut, 1666

Even 18-foot-high walls cannot protect cities from fire when large portions of those cities are built of wood and bamboo and fires can trap people inside the city. This 1666 panoramic woodcut depicts the Great Fire of London. A city of about 500,000 inhabitants, flames swept through the city for three days, gutting the medieval section inside the old Roman City Wall. The fire consumed 13,200 houses and St. Paul’s Cathedral. London Bridge, covered by houses is clearly shown in this image, and there were fears that the fire would cross the bridge and ignite Southwark on the other side of the river. The bridge houses did burn but a firebreak side of the bridge stopped the spread of flames. The fear of citywide fires is hard to imagine in today’s modern world, yet the total destruction of cities by fire is well established in history as recently as the Second World War, where entire cities burned to the ground in man-made firestorms in Japan, England and Germany. The great cities of China and Japan were essentially made of bamboo and paper, and could burn even more easily than the largely wooden cities of the west such as London.