A fire at the Iroquois Theater in Chicago on December 30, 1903, killed 602 people and injured 250 others. It remains the fifth deadliest fire in U.S. history. The investigation showed that the fire was sparked by an arc light which ignited scenery curtains. An asbestos fire curtain was dropped on the stage, but was snagged on the way down and stopped about 10 feet above the stage, which allowed toxic smoke and flames to flow into the auditorium. Many deaths were due to crowd-crush, and the fire was brought under control in about 15 minutes by firefighters.
The fire alerted the country to the need for improved fire safety regulations in theaters. But for those who were there, it was a horror they could never forget. Read "A Tragedy Remembered" from the July/August 1995 issue of NFPA Journal® , which includes an eyewitness account from Eddie Foy, one of the actors performing on that fateful day.