Collinwood school fire
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The Collinwood school fire (also known as the Lake View School fire) of Ash Wednesday, March 4, 1908, was one of the deadliest disasters of its type in the United States. The conflagration in Collinwood, Ohio, a community that has since been absorbed into the city of Cleveland, resulted in the deaths of 172 students, two teachers and a rescuer.
While the Lake View School was built with load-bearing masonry outer walls, much of the four story building's floor structure system used wooden joists. It was one wooden joist that caught fire when it was overheated by a steam pipe. The building’s main staircase extended from the front doors of the building, up to the third floor, and had no fire doors. The stairwell acted like a chimney, helping to spread the fire quickly. Oiled wooden hall and classroom floors also fueled the fire.
Flames quickly blocked escape routes, leaving many students pressed against doors that were locked or opened inward. The flammable construction gave only minutes for evacuation. Though one fire escape was accessible at the rear of the building, not all the children found their way to the exit. Doors to the building were equipped with common door knob latches, not the more modern crash bar type latch. As panic leading to the crush of a large number of students in stairwell vestibules contributed to the death toll, students also died as a result of smoke inhalation and the fire itself. Some children died jumping from second- and third-story windows. Community members watched as victims trapped in the building were burned beyond recognition.
Those killed in the fire who could not be individually identified, as well as those students whose parents could not afford a burial, were buried in a mass grave in Cleveland's Lake View Cemetery. Additionally, several families who lost their children in the fire chose to bury their children's remains adjacent to the Collinwood victims.
Following the fire, the remains of the Lake View School were demolished and a memorial garden planned for the site. A new school—Collinwood Memorial Elementary School—was built adjacent to the disaster site, and incorporated many features that had been lacking in the previous building. Unlike the building involved in the disaster, the new school incorporated fire-safe stairwells and a central alarm system, and was built of steel framing and other fire-safe materials. Collinwood Memorial Elementary was closed in the 1970s and sat vacant until it was razed in 2004. A third school, simply called Memorial Elementary, was opened in 2005 on the same site with the original memorial to the victims preserved.
In the aftermath of the catastrophic Iroquois Theatre Fire in Chicago, 1903, a national drive was instigated to upgrade safe egress from buildings. Official regulations required that doors now open from the inside and swing outward, thereby facilitating public exit. The installation of what were called "panic bar" latches was mandated for doors in schools. The final casualty of the fire was the independence of the Collinwood community itself. Unable to sufficiently guarantee fire safety resources for its residents, voters approved an annexation of Collinwood into Cleveland within two years of the fire.
Bellamy, John Stark II (1997). Maniac in the Bushes: More Tales of Cleveland Woe. Cleveland, OH: Gray & Company, Publishers. ISBN 978-1-886228-19-1
- Encyclopedia of Cleveland entry: Collinwood School Fire
- Dead Ohio Collinwood School Fire
- Collinwood Fire Memorial Sculpture, Lakeview Cemetery
- Sun Newspaper’s 90th anniversary coverage
- Cleveland Plain Dealer's 100th anniversary coverage
- New Memorial School built on the premises of Lakeview/ Old Memorial School.
- Collingwood School Memorial at Findagrave
- Ash Wednesday at Making Light