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The Great Fire of Umeå took place in 1888 and destroyed most of the city of Umeå in Sweden. The unusual windy weather conditions also contributed to two other fires on the same day in Sweden. Umeå took the opportunity to complete its plans to restructure the city and more birches were planted. As a result, Umeå is known as the "City of Birches".

Umeå City Fire
Umeå stadsarkiv-1888-stadsbrand-Umeå.jpg
A picture from Umeå Old Prison's roof towards the northwest after the devastating fire of 1888
Native name Stadsbranden i Umeå
Date25 June 1888 (1888-06-25)
LocationUmeå, Sweden



The preponderance of fires around the city increased as agriculture methods changed. Historically the Sami people had not burned the land as it destroyed the lichen required by their reindeer. New farmers frequently used swidden or slash and burn farming. During the nineteenth century the timber industry moved north clearing the land of trees but leaving the waste behind and creating a fire risk.[1] There was a fire in Norrland in 1851, and in the later 19th century fires swept the area every ten years or so: there were major fires in 1868 and in 1878,[2] but the most damaging to Umeå occurred on the afternoon of 25 June 1888. This fire was reported to have started at a brewery near Renmarksbäcken.[3]

On the same day there was a devastating fire in Sundsvall[4] where the town was quickly burnt in a high wind.[5] There were several other forest fires in Sweden that day, and the settlement of Lilla Edet near Gothenburg also burnt to the ground.[6]

In Umeå, the town hall was destroyed[7] as were the Teg shipyards and houses in the eastern parts of Umeå and on Ön Island.[3] The fire left 2,300 of the 3,000 inhabitants without homes.[8]

After the fireEdit

The oldest fire station in the city dates from the year of the fire

The fires at three unconnected Swedish settlements were widely reported. A collection made in California to aid the victims raised $5,000[9] and blankets and tents were sent from New Zealand to help the homeless. King Oscar and his ministers toured the area and collections were organised in all the major Swedish towns.[10]

Umeå had drawn up improved urban plans when it became a government requirement in 1874 and had already started making changes to the city infrastructure.[11] The town of Sundsvall was arguing for a reduction in the new insurance rules three years after its fire because it had decided to rebuild its buildings in stone.[6] Umeå was redesigned to have fire breaks to prevent the spread of fire between wooden buildings. The streets were made wide with long lines of birch trees and as a result Umeå came to be known as the "Björkarnas Stad", the "City of Birches".[8]

The Umeå Town Hall was rebuilt on the original site to a design by Fredrik Olaus Lindström. It was completed in 1890.[7] Umeå City Church also had to be rebuilt[12] according to a design by Lindstrom, whilst the brick built old prison survived. The oldest fire station in the city is brick-built and dates from 1888.[13]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Alexander, Andrew C. Scott, David M.J.S. Bowman, William J. Bond, Stephen J. Pyne, Martin E. (2013). Fire on earth: an introduction. Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons Inc. p. 287. ISBN 978-1118570715.
  2. ^ Pyne, Stephen J. (1997). World fire: the culture of fire on earth (Pbk ed.). Seattle: University of Washington Press. p. 85. ISBN 978-0295975931.
  3. ^ a b "Umeå's history". Retrieved 28 May 2013.
  4. ^ Berezin, Henrik (2006). Adventure guide Scandinavia: Sweden, Norway, Denmark. London: Hunter. p. 231. ISBN 978-1588435798.
  5. ^ "Branden 1888" [Fire of 1888] (in Swedish). Archived from the original on 29 May 2014. Retrieved 28 May 2014.
  6. ^ a b Rohland, Eleonora (1 February 2011). "From Wood to Stone: The Risk Management of Swiss Re in The Sundsvall Fire 1888". Environment and History. 17 (1): 153–169. doi:10.3197/096734011X12922359173096. Retrieved 29 May 2014.
  7. ^ a b "Umeå kn, UMEÅ 6:2 (F.D. RÅDHUSET) RÅDHUSET, UMEÅ" (in Swedish). Swedish National Heritage Board. Retrieved 28 May 2014.
  8. ^ a b "Facts about Umea". Retrieved 28 May 2014.
  9. ^ "Sufferers by Fire in Sweden". The Daily Alta California. 24 July 1888. Retrieved 29 May 2014.
  10. ^ "News". Nelson Evening Mail. 27 August 1888. Retrieved 30 May 2014.
  11. ^ Hall, Thomas (2003). Planning Europe's Capital Cities. p. contents. ISBN 1135829020.
  12. ^ Vickers, Steve (21 December 2013). "Slice of Umea". The Independent. Retrieved 30 May 2014.
  13. ^ "Umea". Retrieved 28 May 2014.

Coordinates: 63°49′30″N 20°15′54″E / 63.825°N 20.265°E / 63.825; 20.265