What is arguably the most famous disaster in American history began around 9 p.m. on Sunday evening, October 8, and did not end until early Tuesday morning. Although the fire originated on the Near West Side, it soon leaped across the South and then the main branch of the river, driven by a strong wind from the southwest. The overmatched and exhausted fire department, which had finally put out a major blaze only hours before, was helpless to stop it. All local residents could do was grab a few precious possessions and flee for their lives. By the time the fire burned itself out, the downtown and most of the North Side lay in ashes.