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The Cuyahoga would burn at least 12 more times over the next century. None of those disasters, however, ever achieved the notoriety of the fire. In the mayor of Cleveland, Carl Stokes, was a major advocate for both urban and environmental reform. As the first African-American mayor of a major city, Stokes was a story in himself.
His presence at the site of the fire helped transform what might have remained a local event into national news. Later that summer Time magazine ran an article about the blaze illustrated somewhat misleadingly with a photo of the larger fire in Earlier in , a catastrophic spill off the coast of Santa Barbara, California, had released three million gallons of oil into the ocean, creating a mile-long slick. Photos of thousands of dead birds and marine mammals, followed a few months later by news of a burning river in Cleveland, helped galvanize environmentalists.
The first Earth Day, already in preparation, was held ten months after the Cuyahoga burned. In his wood-paneled office in City Hall, a painting of General Moses Cleaveland, who first surveyed the area in , spans an entire wall, showing the officer on the banks of a forested Cuyahoga. Throughout this summer the city will host a series of events to commemorate the fire as a pivotal moment in its own history and in that of environmental action.
Jackson has ambitious plans for Cleveland. He joined mayors across the country to commit to the goals of the international Paris Climate Agreement after the Trump administration withdrew from the accord in Six wind turbines are set for construction on Lake Erie by As for the Cuyahoga, in March the Ohio EPA declared that fish in the river, such as carp, channel catfish, and smallmouth bass, were safe to eat—albeit no more than once a month, owing to the persistence in the sediments of mercury and PCBs. On a sunny Saturday morning some of those fish are taking refuge in specially constructed shelters attached to the steel and concrete bulkheads that line the banks of the last two miles of the Cuyahoga before it enters Lake Erie.
The shelters consist of submerged chain-link enclosures that encourage the growth of algae, providing food for young fish on the last leg of their journey to the lake. The fish share the narrow channel with foot freighters that deliver iron ore to a steel mill upstream. Jane Goodman, executive director of Cuyahoga River Restoration, a nonprofit group, points to one such fish-and-algae habitat, not far from the riverside fire station that responded to the fire.
Read Caption. The Cuyahoga River caught fire 50 years ago. It inspired a movement. On June 22, , Cleveland's filthy river ignited for the 13th and last time. It and other American rivers are dramatically cleaner today.
By Tim Folger.