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by Larry Neild


LONDON, Sept. 3 (Xinhua) -- A set of official postage stamps was issued Friday to mark the 350th anniversary of the Great Fire of London, one of the greatest disasters to hit Britain's capital city.


The set of six stamps have been designed in a comic-book style as a way of telling the story of the fire which started on Sept. 2, 1666 and raged across a large area of central London.


When the fire was finally extinguished on Sept. 5 it had destroyed more than 13,000 houses and burned down 87 churches in London and many iconic buildings. Over four days the fire destroyed what was the medieval walled City of London, home to 80,000 men, women and children. Over 70,000 of them were made homeless by the fire. Although the death toll is said to have been very low, even today nobody knows the exact number of people who died in the fire. Estimates are that 10 people died.


The fire was stopped from spreading to other parts of London, including the area where the King lived, thanks mainly to two factors -- strong east winds died down, and soldiers based at the Tower of London used gunpowder to create effective firebreaks to halt the fire from spreading.


Philip Parker, a spokesman for Royal Mail, said: ""The Great Fire of London is one of the most infamous events in the history of London. Despite the terrible devastation caused by the Great Fire, it provided the opportunity for the regeneration of large swathes of the city and shaped the London we know today.


""It was the catalyst of the building of iconic landmarks such as St Paul's Cathedral and dozens of parish churches.


""It is fitting that we mark the anniversary of the fire with an innovative set of stamps that re-imagine the events.""


The fire started in a bakery in Pudding Lane, a spot now marked by a commemorative monument that is on London's tourism trail.


Baker Thomas Farriner and his daughter saved their lives by climbing through a window, but their maid perished in the fire, the first victim of the Great Fire of London.


As the fire spread rapidly hundreds of people grabbed what possessions they could carry and ran to the River Thames to escape the flames and the heat.


One of the biggest casualties of the fire was St Paul's Cathedral, completely destroyed by the flames.


Within days of the fire being put out Sir Christopher Wren outlined plans to King Charles II to start the rebuilding of London, including the current St Paul's Cathedral which is now a dominant feature of the capital's skyline. Wren also designed the Great Fire monument in Pudding Lane.


The stamps were designed for Royal Mail by comic book artist John Higgins. Royal Mail said it is the first time they have used a graphic-novel style of design for official postage stamps.


One of the few remnants of the fire is a melted piece of pottery discovered by archaeologists many years later in Pudding Lane. Tests showed it had reached a temperature of 1,250 degrees Celsius. The pot is now exhibited in the Museum of London. An exhibition, ""Fire! Fire!"" is currently taking place at the museum to take visitors on a theatrical journey through the events of 1666.

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