Copenhagen Fire of 1795
|This article does not cite any references or sources. (December 2009)|
The Copenhagen fire of 1795 started Friday the 5th of July, 1795, at or around 3 PM by the Navy's old base south east of Kongens Nytorv on Gammelholm, in the Navy's magazine for coal and timber, the so-called Dellehave. As the workers had already gone home, a considerable amount of time passed before efforts to combat the fire started, and out of fear for theft, the fire hydrants had been removed. The people of Holmen also blocked the civilian fire brigade, possibly in the belief that since it was a military area, the military should take care of it.
There had been an extended period without rain and the dry wood, combined with the storage of rope work and tar, made the fire develop quickly. The wind blew especially strong from east-southeast, and that meant the countless embers were carried through the air, into the city. Because of the strong sun light, small fires were difficult to discover until they have taken hold. This is why the fire had spread from Gammelholm to the main magazine along Holmens Canal (Holmens Kanal Danish) and over Holmens Canal to the quarter around Saint Nicolai Church and from there, along Gammel Strand to the area around Nytorv/Gammeltorv.
The fire at Nicolai Church
Right by Saint Nicolai Church, after the Copenhagen Fire of 1728, infrastructure to fight fires had been constructed because the area was very densely built. A basin that could hold 400 barrels of water had been excavated for use. In addition, a pumping station was built that could pump water through an 800 foot long hose. The pumps were able to raise the pressure to such a level that it could deliver one barrel of water per minute from the hose. But when a spark set fire to the church tower, nobody could find the key to the door of the pumping station. Only some time later did anyone think of kicking the door in. But by then the fire had already taken hold and the residents in the surrounding quarter were panicked. The road became so full of people, who were also moving furniture to safety from the fire, that the water hoses could not get close to the fire. Soon the church burned to the ground, and with it the pumps. At that point the Saint Nicolai quarter could not be saved.
Fighting the fire
The majority of the residents in the threatened by the fire chose to flee the area, but at some places residents chose to stay in their houses and fight the fire. This happened in the first three to four houses on north side of Østergade. Here people had spread themselves throughout the houses both inside and out, armed with buckets and plenty of water. This prevented the fire from taking hold and saved the neighbouring street of Købmagergade at the same time, since it would have unavoidably have spread to there as well.
The Conference Advisory, Carsten Anker, had his mansion on the corner of Vingårdsstræde and Kongens Nytorv saved by covering both it and a connected building with a sail that constantly had water poured on it.
The Justice Avisory, Peter Uldall, saved his mansion in Vimmelskaftet by paying a large party to stay at the location to put out all embers. It also prevented the fire from spreading to the northern side of the plaza, so only the southern side burned down.
The fire's consequences
The fire died out on Sunday the 7th of July around 4 PM. It had destroyed 909 houses while 74 were partially damaged. Just over 6,000 of the just under 100,000 residents in the capital were made homeless. Fortunately it was summer and many of the homeless could move into tents or sleep outside. A large number of them took refuge in the ruins of the recently burned down Christianborgs Castle, the remaining walls of which were so large that an entire family could move into a window niche. The stables were also used as housing.
The fire had, together with Copenhagen's fire of 1728, in effect burned down almost the whole of Copenhagen's medieval and renaissance heritage, so today there are only a few houses from before the 18th century in that part of the city.
The fire was a strong contributing factor to the foundation of Denmark’s first credit institution, Kreditkassen for Husejerne i Kjøbenhavn, in 1797.
After the fire, a large-scale plan, designed by the city planner Jørgen Henrik Rawert and the construction master Peter Meyn, was planned. The plan dictated the newly constructed houses should be made of masonry (instead of being timber framed) and house corners at intersections should be diagonal and the streets straightened, so the fire department's long ladder companies could navigate the streets easier.