Forty-three years ago today, water turned to flames on the Cuyahoga River. The oil filled river that runs from Akron to Cleveland, caught flames on June 22, 1969 from debris that many believe was likely ignited by molten steel or a spark from a passing rail car. The 30 minute fire was eventually put out by local Cleveland firefighting tugboats and the story drew national attention to the environmental problems in Ohio and elsewhere in the United States.
The fire cost the city approximately fifty thousand dollars in damage and Cleveland businesses became infamous for their pollution to the river, as well as the city. Sadly, this was not the first time the river caught fire with fires occurring in 1868, 1883, 1887, 1912, 1922, 1936, 1941, 1948 and in 1952, which cost the city over 1.5 million dollars in damage.
The 1969 fire was not the most damaging or devastating of all the fires, but it was the last, due in part to its national coverage that followed. Time Magazine wrote an article headlined “The Price of Optimism,” and brought national coverage to the pollution problems in Ohio. Due in part to this national embarrassment, and EPA involvement, the state of Ohio and the city of Cleveland have made drastic changes in the pollution of the river and attempts to rid the river of its oil filled substances.
In 2009, the city of Cleveland celebrated the 40th anniversary of the burning on the river with numerous EPA members and Cleveland officials in attendance to celebrate the environmental improvements of the river. The Cuyahoga River is now a more clean and respectable environmental landmark with a tainted historical background.
- Jeffrey Hammond / 98.5 WNCX