On September 1, 1923, just before noon, an earthquake of magnitude 8.3 occurred near the densely populated, modern industrial cities of Tokyo and Yokohama, Japan. The epicenter was placed in Sagami Bay, just southwest of Tokyo Bay. Destruction ranged from far up into the Hakone mountains, home to popular tourist resorts, to the busy shipping lanes of Yokohama Bay, north to the city of Tokyo.
Though not the largest earthquake to ever hit Japan, the proximity to Tokyo and Yokohama and the surrounding areas, with combined populations numbering 2 million, made it one of the most devastating quakes ever to hit Japan. Tokyo's principle business and industrial districts lay in ruins.
At a time when thousands of homes and restaurants had lit fires, mostly gas ranges, for noon-day meal preparation, the quake hit, demolishing buildings and toppling contents of the traditional wood and paper Japanese houses. Flamable materials in the industrial plants and explosions at a munitions factory helped fuel the flames at such a pace that the normally well-prepared firefighters could not keep up. Broken water mains made water unavailable to fight the fires.