The combination of urbanization, improved printing technologies, and the incorporation of insurance made the period between the London Fire of 1666 and the Great Kanto Earthquake and Fire in Tokyo in 1923 incredibly fruitful and inventive for mapping fires. With London leading the way, larger cities with more wooden structures and fewer open spaces made fires bigger and more frequent. The invention of lithography in the late eighteenth century allowed for bigger and more diverse maps of fires. And, in the middle of the nineteenth century, the new urban insurance companies manipulated maps in order to visualize and calculate risk based on building materials, open spaces, and what they termed “moral hazard”—the risks they saw in the people themselves. These techniques allowed viewers to understand life at the scale of the city.
Even as mapmakers refined how they visualized cities, the event of the fire, itself, asked map makers to see three cities at once: the city that once stood; the city as it was burning; and the city that will be rebuilt. The illusion of a static city—places of constant construction and demolition—quickly breaks down as these maps visualize, within the space of the city, three different temporal scales. Big or small, simple or complex, they draw you into the center of their flames.