Why didn’t Paris burn in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries?

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Several European cities experienced devastating fires in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and some burned repeatedly. Paris did not. Yet there, as elsewhere, the central quarters were crowded, and wood was widely used. People relied on naked flames for heating, cooking, and lighting and for most industrial processes. This article suggests that a combination of interconnected factors explains Paris’s good fortune and differentiated it from other cities. It enjoyed a climate that reduced the likelihood of bad fires and provided abundant water, assisted by a geology that also offered fire-resistant building materials. These factors helped its inhabitants fight fires with surprising success, even before the creation of a permanent fire service. The nature of the city’s economy also helped, because there were few concentrations of highly combustible products, and its various institutions of government collaborated to make both preventive measures and fire control more effective.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)35-65
Number of pages31
JournalFrench Historical Studies
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2019


  • Environmental history
  • Fire
  • Paris
  • Policing
  • Urban history

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