The New Book

Working Title: Second Burning of Atlanta: The Story of the Great Fire of 1917

University of Georgia Press, 2016

A half-century after Sherman burned Atlanta, the core of the city went up in flames again. The Great Atlanta Fire of 1917 destroyed 2,000 buildings, wiped out 300 acres of real estate, and left more than 12,000 people homeless — almost a tenth of the city’s residents.

The Great Fire actually began as four small fires that started on the morning of Monday, May 21, 1917.  When the firemen arrived at the fourth outbreak, their fire truck malfunctioned, and, with all other units fighting the first three fires, a blaze that should easily have been contained spread. Fueled by windstorms and fed by shingle-roofed wooden cottages, the fire spread for more than fifty city blocks. While the fire was contained before midnight, for weeks, the city was shrouded in smoke and ash. Houses collapsed in on themselves, and wooden frames and shingles fell into cellars, creating smoldering fire pits. Thousands of homeless Atlantans camped in Piedmont Park or vacant lots on Edgewood Avenue, while others slept in the civic auditorium, in church sanctuaries, and in hotel and theater lobbies. First aid stations were set up in downtown offices and the headquarters of fraternal organizations, like the Odd Fellows Hall on Auburn Avenue.

The Great Fire permanently altered Atlanta. The single-family homes near downtown were replaced by apartment buildings that catered to the newly homeless and the wartime surge in the city’s population and in rebuilding after the fire, civic leaders made decisions that affect development patterns today.

The Second Burning of Atlanta will be a narrative account of this dramatic and far-reaching chapter of Atlanta’s history.