By the evening of September 15, 1812, there were fires beginning sporadically in various parts of Moscow. But the morning of the next day revealed a truly frightening sight. In the direction of the Red Square, rows and rows of shopping arcades were ablaze.
Napoleon rushed to the windows and, across the Moskva River, saw the flaming Zamoskvorechye. He realized that the fire had spread to all the surrounding streets. The Kremlin was in a ring of fire. Above the burning city raged a firestorm, and strong winds carried the embers. Like flying torches, they fell on the roofs of houses all over Moscow and the Kremlin.
Seeing the conflagration, Napoleon shouted, ‘What barbarians! What a people!’ Everything was ablaze by now. The Kremlin, where the Russian and French gunpowder and armoury was stowed, could any moment take off into the air. All it needed was a spark.
Napoleon didn’t move from his place for a long time. His generals, Murat among them, begged him on bended knee to abandon the burning town. He relented only in the evening, and ordered that he be escorted to the Imperial Petrovsk palace. There was fire everywhere. Philippe Paul, Comte de Ségur recalled, ‘We walked on the burning ground, under a burning sky, between burning walls.’
[Translated excerpts from КНИЖКА С КАРТИНКАМИ.]