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Hawaii Travel --> Islands --> Oahu --> Attractions --> Honolulu --> Chinatown --> Bubonic Plague Fire Destroyed Honolulu's Chinatown

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Bubonic Plague Fire Destroyed Honolulu's Chinatown
January 1900

Bubonic plague reached Hawaii in December of 1899 and one of the measures taken by local officials was to burn down the buildings in Honolulu's Chinatown that were exposed to the disease. The Honolulu Fire Department lost control of the fire on January 20, 1900 and most of the buildings in Chinatown were burned to the ground.


Plague and Fire: Battling Black Death and the 1900 burning of Honolulu's Chinatown
Buy the Book "Plague and Fire" at Amazon.com


December 1899: Arrival of Bubonic Plague in Hawaii
Hawaii's first cases of bubonic plague were diagnosed in Honolulu's Chinatown in December of 1899. Local health officials were very concerned because new diseases introduced on isolated islands can be devestating to local populations. Hawaii had experienced that devestation several times before, for example when measles, venereal diseases, and cholera arrived in the islands.

Health Officials Immediately Went Into Action
When it was confirmed that bubonic plague had arrived in Hawaii the local health department immediately established a quarantine in the Chinatown area. In addition to the quarantine, schools were closed, passengers from newly arrived ships were isolated, and the bodies of those who died of bubonic plague were burned at an isolated location on Sand Island.

Fire Was Intentionally Set to Destroy Infected Buildings
Local officials then decided to take more drastic measures. They began burning down the Chinatown buildings they thought had been exposed to the bubonic plague. The first building was burned down on December 31, 1899, and several more buildings were burned in the first weeks of January 1900. On January 20, 1900, while the wooden buildings between Smith Street and Nuuanu Avenue on Beretania Street were being burned, the fire got out of control and several unintended buildings caught on fire. Flames spread from the steeple of Kaumakapili Church to the surrounding buildings, and in the end, most of the buildings in Honolulu's Chinatown were destroyed.

An Earlier Fire Also Destroyed Most of Chinatown
This was not the first fire to destroy Honolulu's Chinatown. Thirteen years earlier, in 1886, another uncontrolled fire burned down most of the buildings in Chinatown. The fire lasted three days and it destroyed more then eight blocks.



Book About the Chinatown Bubonic Plague Fire
Plague and Fire: Battling Black Death and the 1900 burning of Honolulu's Chinatown TITLE: PLAGUE AND FIRE
AUTHOR: James C. Mohr
PUBLISHER: Oxford University Press
DATE PUBLISHED: October 2004
DIMENSIONS: 9 x 6.1 x 1 inches
NUMBER OF PAGES: 256
FULL TITLE: Plague and Fire: Battling Black Death and the 1900 burning of Honolulu's Chinatown
  • Buy the Hardback Book at Amazon.com
  • Buy the Paperback Book at Amazon.com


  • Photos of the Chinatown Honolulu Bubonic Plague Fire
    These pictures of the Honolulu Bubonic plague epidemic and the fire that was intentionally set to destroy it were published by the State of Hawaii Historic Preservation division as part of their special feature entitled "100 Years Ago in Hawaii".
  • Part 1: Hawaii Responds to the Plague
  • Part 2: Flames Run Riot
  • Part 3: The Passing of Chinatown

    Star Bulletin Article: "Plague on Our Shores"
    In January and February of 2000 the Honolulu Star Bulletin Newspaper published this five part article about the arrival of bubonic plague in Hawaii and the subsequent burning and complete destruction of Honolulu's Chinatown.
  • Part 1: Dark Days
  • Part 2: False Hope
  • Part 3: City at War
  • Part 4: The Great Chinatown Fire
  • Part 5: Plague Claimed More Lives Then Fire

    Books About Other Interesting Incidents in Hawaii's History
  • The Colony: The Harrowing True Story of the Exiles of Molokai
  • Two Books About the 1941 Niihau Incident
  • Honor Killing: The Infamous Massie Affair
  • Little Known Tales in Hawaii History
  • Index to All Books About Hawaii

    See also:
  • Natural Disasters in Hawaii
  • More About Honolulu's Chinatown
  • Downtown Honolulu Historic Tour
  • Waikiki Historic Trail



  • Related Links
    Oahu Island - Main Menu
    Islands of Hawaii
    Hawaii for Visitors

    Elsewhere on the Web
    Chinatown Fire Article by Michael Tsai
    Wikipedia on the Bubonic Plague
    The History of Honolulu's Chinatown
    Gregory Yee Mark Chinatown History Article (PDF)
    World Tourist Chinatown Honolulu Profile



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