The History of Fire

fire-graphicFire is a strange and terrible thing. It’s also a breath of life on a cold winter’s night. It sustained man through many cold nights and many downpours where ancient man was holed up in his cave.

Fire is destructive. It’s also rejuvenating to nature. Fire cycles and wildfires have raged throughout history refreshing and renewing the forest. Only in modern times with crowding and the lack of renewal have they become dangerous. Since man keeps them at bay the elements that contribute to them build until an explosion and massive wildfire results. One hundred years ago it would have burned a few acres as its natural course then run out of fuel.

So here’s the timeline of fire.

1,900,000 B.C.: 

Earliest humans dabbled in fire but evidence suggests not in a controlled. Much like a teenager just starting to drive early humans had lots to learn in order to wield fire properly.  Evidence of cooked food is found from 1.9 million years ago, although fire was probably not used in a controlled fashion until 1,000,000 years ago. Wikipedia


1,000,000 B.C.:
The origins of fire are largely unknown. The Greeks told stories of Prometheus stealing fire from the gods and giving it to man. He was punished harshly. But nobody knows for sure how man got or discovered fire. We do have evidence of when man got fire.  Ash and charred bone, the earliest known evidence of controlled use of fire, reveal that human ancestors may have used fire a million years ago. Huffington Post

~900,000 B.C.:  Africans use fire for cooking. Mostly lived outside and because of the low number of people there was plenty of wood to find and burn.

~400,000 B.C.: A new study involving the University of Colorado Boulder shows clear evidence of the continuous control of fire by Neanderthals in Europe dating back roughly 400,000 years, yet another indication that they weren’t dimwitted brutes as often portrayed. University of Colorado


60,000 B.C.:  
When people left Africa, about 60,000 years ago, they brought the idea of cooking fires with them all over the world. History for Kids

10,000 B.C.: 
People invent fire containers (usually a pile of rocks in their cave to encircle the flames). They used this fire area inside their caves in order to stay warm during the Ice Age. Necessity is often the mother of invention.

470_24058186,000 B.C. : 
People invent ovens so wood burns more efficiently. Had to be more careful with wood supplies as population grows. Also, started making pottery which requires super heat.

4,000 B.C.: 
Started using charcoal which was originally half-burned wood done in a kiln. It burns hotter and longer than unburned wood.

200 B.C.: 
Romans get creative with fire. They engineer structures for heated baths. Some baths were private and some were public. They used an intricate system of pipes heated by charcoal flames.

1347 A.D.:  
The hearth became known as the chimney. The term, chimney, then was used to include the hole or flue which carried off the smoke of the fire burning- in a pit in the center of the floor. History has failed to record the inventor, or to tell the place where chimneys as we might recognize them were first used, but they seem to have been common in Venice before the middle of the 14th Century, for- a number of them were thrown down by an earthquake there in 1347.” Hearth

1825 A.D.:
Miramichi Fire”

“After a summer of sparse rain, sporadic wildfires in Maine and the Canadian province of New Brunswick reached disastrous levels in October 1825. Strong winds spurred the conflagration…” CNN

FIRE 2 GENERIC1880 A.D.: For the 1880 census, Charles Sargent mapped forest fires. Fire was nearly everywhere National Humanities Center

1925 A.D.:  The first Presidential proclamation of Fire Prevention Week was made in 1925 by President Calvin Coolidge. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) continues to be the international sponsor of the week.

In Canada, Fire Prevention Week is proclaimed annually by the Governor General. Wikipedia

1971 A.D.:
Baker publishes work that pine trees need forest fires in order to grow best.

Species such as Monterey, Bishop, and Knobcone pines have adapted to produce pine cones which hold seeds locked by a resinous coating that is melted away by fire (Baker 1971). California Coastal Commission

2011 A.D.: Bastrop wildfire rampages through the small Texas county killing 2 people, destroying 1,691 homes and causing $325,000,000 in property damage.
34,356 Acres were torched. Charred tree trunks littered the landscape. These fires have worsened as drought conditions in America grow worse. Source:

Walter Clarke is well-versed in fire. He knows the power it holds to improve man’s life and the potential it holds to destroy. He’s been cleaning and repairing chimneys for 11 years now.

Do you have a correction or valuable addition to the timeline? Context matters! Click here and help this timeline’s curator get the history right!