22 June

'I will never forget a photograph of flames, fire, shooting right out of the water in downtown Cleveland. It was the summer of 1969 and the Cuyahoga River was burning.'

June 22, 2009 · 1 min read

So spoke the US Environmental Protection Agency administrator Carol Browner after the Cuyahoga River went up in flames on 22 June 1969. The fire, which reached the height of a five-storey building, was only the latest – and most widely publicised – of a series of fires resulting from the debris, oil and other pollution on the river. It led Randy Newman to pen his song ‘Burn on, big river’ and prompted legislation to deal with the scandal of pollution in US waterways.

‘The Cuyahoga will live in infamy as the only river that was ever declared a fire hazard.’

Congressman Louis Stokes

‘It was strictly a run of the mill fire.’

William E Barry, chief of Cleveland Fire Department


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