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The Cuyahoga River caught fire 45 years ago this week

  1. Jun 24, 2014 #1


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    Somehow I managed to miss an anniversary from my childhood: It was 45 years ago last Sunday that the Cuyahoga River caught fire in Cleveland, Ohio:

    I was in high school at the time. My family didn’t live in the Cleveland metro area, but close enough that we mostly watched Cleveland TV stations, and regularly read the main Cleveland newspaper, the “Plain Dealer.” The fire was definitely news when it happened, and it became an icon for the environmental-protection movement that was starting about that time.

    However, in retrospect, it doesn’t represent the depths of environmental degradation along the river, because it was in fact the last major fire on the river. There had been worse fires in the past, and Cleveland had been working on cleaning up the river before 1969:

    The fable of the burning river, 45 years later (Washington Post)
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 25, 2014
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  3. Jun 24, 2014 #2


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    Thanks for the memories!

    I was young as well, but a ways away in Connecticut. Then I chose to attend college in Cleveland, and for the last couple months of high school I kept hearing the jokes about the river, the bankruptcy, and the (supposed) overall armpittiness of the city.

    But after I got there I had a lot of fun and have good memories of the 9 years I lived in the area.

    EDIT: oops, this isn't GD . . . :redface:
    Last edited: Jun 24, 2014
  4. Jul 8, 2014 #3
    A long history of fires on the Cuyahoga River

    I lived in and near Cleveland for about a decade between 1977 and 1991 where I was employed mainly as a local semi driver. I also attended Cleveland State University later during that time frame where I majored in Urban Planning and we studied the plight of the Cuyahoga when I was in school there. Most of the river's issues have come from its history as the site of America's oil-refining boom and the home of Rockefeller-owned Standard Oil.

    Today what had been the largest oil refinery in the world is long-gone, but many miles of abandoned underground piping full of petroleum products remain. There was a later Cuyahoga River fire around 1988 that destroyed the Jefferson Ave. bridge over the river as well as several buildings alongside the river that was caused by gasoline leaking from long-abandoned underground refinery piping and a spark from hot steel.

    There are also still a half-dozen century-old pipelines between the former Standard Oil Refinery site in Kingsbury Run, where the new RTA rapid transit service facility is alongside I-77 today, and Oil City, PA where most of the oil refined in Cleveland came from, today deteriorating and waiting to cause a major contamination issue too.

    In searching for any news of the 1988 fire I found this historical record of Cuyahoga River fires than includes a number of historic photos including one of the Standard Oil refinery in 1899. Several fires including the 1988 fire caused more damage than the 1969 fire, but with the then new environmental movement inflamed by several big offshore oil disasters the Cuyahoga fire put the spotlight on Cleveland's issues and led to the later passage of the Clean Water Act.

    This history does not include the later 1988 fire but I know that it occurred too.

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