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It's a disaster that changed the way we look at Tampa Bay, but you've probably never even heard it happened.

Why do they call it the Ybor City Fire of 1908?

The Ybor City that's today so familiar and charming exists only because of disaster.

"It's amazing to look at the pictures of the Ybor Fire. It looks like a war zone," said Rodney Kite-Powell, curator of history at the Tampa Bay History Center.

Follow this link to see some of the only photos of the Ybor City of that era.

History lover Tony Pizzo gathered the collection, which shows a booming Wild West-looking town with wooden storefronts and horses in dusty streets.

It looked just like that on March 1st, 1908. A breezy Sunday morning.

Fire! At a boarding house.

A black column filled the sky.

People panicked.

Firefighters didn't. They rushed in.

But they were fighting more than flames.

They battled with the very design of the burning buildings themselves.

"Those wooden buildings that were really packed in tight in Ybor City," Kite-Powell said.

"Also a lot of them had wood shingle roofs, and that didn't help the situation at all, either. And so you had these burning embers really being blown around Ybor City.

"And so another building caught fire and another building caught fire."

"A hurricane of flame," the Tampa Tribune wrote two days later, "left desolation in its path -- a desolate waste of territory, desolate families in want of bread and, worst of all, desolate hearts that ache in the intensity of their anguish."

Fifty-five acres were wiped out in just four hours.

More than 200 homes, shops, and other buildings -- plus five huge cigar factories, the economic engines of the young city -- were now just charred earth and lonesome chimneys.

"In a day, you have not only a thousand people homeless, but jobless. And we didn't have the kind of insurance that we have today. We didn't have the kind of federal backup that we have today," Kite-Powell said.

Rebuilding the area took a massive community effort. Charities, social clubs called "mutual aid societies," and neighbors fed the hungry and rebuilt the 20 flattened blocks.

But this new section of the city would be different, with vital changes that would sweep from Ybor City, through Downtown, and into West Tampa.

More space would separate each home.

And nearly every big new building would be brick.

"You had kind of the replacement of all of these wood factories over the course of time and the conversion of brick factories, which were much more fire-resistant," Kite-Powell said.

Much more fire-resistant, and much more beautiful, and much more permanent.

So the character of that new Ybor City -- the town that sprouted after the blaze like green leaves after a forest fire -- is the Ybor City of brick and balconies we know and treasure today.

Why do they call it that? Now you know.

Ybor City was hit by another major fire just a few years ago, in 2000. That fire was started by a forklift. The 1908 fire was probably started by a cigarette. But both fires broke out in almost the same spot in Ybor City.

We feature new "Why do they call it that?" stories each Thursday on 10 News at 6 a.m. and 5 p.m.

Check out previous editions of the Emmy Award-winning series at our "Why do they call it that?" website: wtsp.com/callitthat.

Follow 10 News reporter Grayson Kamm on Twitter at@graysonkamm as he travels Tampa Bay telling your stories.

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