The 1923 Great Kantō earthquake is one of the most deadly and destructive natural disasters in history. As the name connotes, fire is less considered in examinations of this event even though fire was responsible for the vast majority of death and destruction. Moreover, destruction of Tokyo by fire following an earthquake was foreseen and foretold as early as 1905, yet no actions were taken to reduce the risk. We therefore focus on fire aspects of the 1 September event with special attention to the capital Tokyo. Shaking intensities varied significantly across central Tokyo, with ∼100 ignitions distributed in all parts of the city occurring within the first hour. These rapidly grew into large fires due to the prevailing flammable wood‐framed construction, high winds, and lack of firefighting water caused by breaks in water mains. However, even with adequate water, firefighters would likely still have been overwhelmed given the adverse meteorological conditions. The large fires soon merged into very large conflagrations that created their own localized high winds, further feeding the fires to the extent that fire whirls were created. The worst of these occurred in an area where many people were sheltering, causing 40,000 deaths. Even without this particularly tragic occurrence, the deaths due to fires were still greater than due to building collapse and other causes. Why the prescient warning issued years earlier went unheeded, what the social and political impact of the disaster and its aftermath was, and how fire and seismic risk reduction awareness influenced postdisaster reconstruction, are all questions we address. Although Japan since 1923 has implemented many measures to improve earthquake and postearthquake fire preparedness, the risk of fire following an earthquake remains significant in Japan as well as elsewhere.

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