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Timeline / Defining Rights and Responsibilities / 1900: Honolulu destroyed in ‘The Great Fire’

1900: Honolulu destroyed in ‘The Great Fire’

For three weeks, buildings are systematically torched by order of the Honolulu Board of Health as a means of stopping the spread of bubonic plague. On January 20, every fireman in Honolulu watches helplessly as the wind scatters embers to the wooden spires of Kaumakapili Church. Soon 38 acres are engulfed. Four thousand of the city’s panicked residents are herded into confinement but survive, and the bubonic plague seems to be halted.

The fire-blackened stone walls of Kaumakapili Church, which is known primarily as a place of worship for poor Hawaiians, stands after the fire—the only recognizable structure left in Chinatown.