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Hartford Remembers the 1944 Circus Fire

Sunday, Jul 6, 2014  • Updated 9:40 PM EDT
Hartford Remembers the 1944 Circus Fire Monica Garske

The city of Hartford came together on Sunday to remember the infamous Hartford Circus Fire 70 years later.

The ceremony took place on Barbour St, next to a memorial dedicated to the victims.

On July 6, 1944, as least 167 people were killed and more than 700 hurt during a fire at the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus performance in Hartford. More than 7,000 people were in attendance, many of them women and children.

According to a release from the Hartford Fire Department, it is remembered as one of the worst fires in United States history.

Nancy Saunders Spada of Farmington is a survivor of the fire and remembers the chaos in detail.

"My father slid down the pole, because we were at the very top, and my mother threw the children down,” Spada said. “And somehow, we got out of the tent, and my father proceeded to go and help the people coming out."

John B. Stewart, the former Hartford fire chief, was 14 years old at the time of the fire.  He was outside the tent when it started.

"I looked up, and I heard screaming, and we saw the thick black smoke," he said.

The event led to a slew of fire code changes, such as using flame retardant tents, requiring fire extinguishers every 50-100 feet and having a CT State Police and local fire department presence at any performance held under a tents.

It also prompted a ban on the use of pyrotechnic and flame acts before audiences without approval through local and state permit processes.

At the ceremony, the name of each victim was read aloud and a flower placed in their memory. Spada said while the fire was a horrific event, she was glad to see the community come together in remembrance.