On Sunday morning, February 7, 1904, a spark ignited blankets and cotton goods in the firm of John E. Hurst and Company, which stood between Hopkins Place and Liberty on the south side of German (now Redwood) Street. Flames leapt out of control from building to building due to high winds. A total of 1,231 fireman and 400 volunteers sprayed 20 million gallons of water on the flames. By the time the fire was under control on Monday evening, it had consumed 1,500 buildings over approximately 140 acres. Many people sustained substantial material loss. Damage was estimated to be more than 125 million dollars. Miraculously, however, there were no serious injuries and only one reported fatality.
The leaders of Baltimore decided to use this disaster as an opportunity to improve their city and make it more appealing. As a result of careful and thoughtful planning, civic leaders created a thriving, modern port city with wider streets, more efficient docks, an improved sewer system, and sturdy masonry and steel buildings.