Liability under Rylands v Fletcher has since its inception been justified by ideas of risk-creation and loss-spreading, in circumstances where parties are free from blame. Pollock described it as amounting to an ‘insurance’ between neighbours; in its contrast with negligence liability, it has more recently been described as the ‘conscience’ of the law. Here we are concerned with the nature and limited existence of Rylands liability for damage done by the escape of fire after the Court of Appeal’s decision in Stannard v Gore. How does ‘insurance’ through liability compare with the well-recognised and widespread practice in relation to fire, of insuring oneself? We particularly discuss the possible purposes of the long disembodied section 86 of the Fires Prevention (Metropolis) Act 1774, the significance of insurance in that statute, and the importance of rival interpretations of its applicability to Rylands liability. We identify the current difficulties in this area of law as lying in the elusiveness of the social purposes which have shaped its principles, suggesting that any justification of Rylands liability for fire should indeed take account of the long-established practice of first party insurance.