The River of Fire, 40 Years Later

January 5, 2009 By: Marshall Cutchin

It’s been almost 40 years since the Cuyahoga River, which ran north from Akron into Cleveland through a slalom course of rust-belt toxicity, suddenly burst into flames. The river had actually caught on fire many times before, but this was the burn that captured the national imagination and turned the river and region into the butt of so many jokes. In fact the 1969 fire may have contributed directly to the establishment of the Clean Water Act three years later.
This morning the Cleveland Plain Dealer offers an excellent overview of the fire and its aftermath, showing how dramatic efforts — including letting many businesses fail –produced dramatic results. The Cuyahoga has gone from a river virtually devoid of life to one that supports 40 different species of fish, including steelhead.