Warrenton, MO Nursing Home Fire, Feb 1957
Ruins Searched for 70 Dead In Holocaust at Nursing Home
Warrenton Building Turned Into A Funeral Pyre Within Minutes
Fast-Spreading Flames, Ripping Explosion Trap Aged and Invalids in One of Missouri's Worst Disasters; Only 16 Bodies Recovered.
By ALLAN MERRITT & GEORGE SITTERLY
WARRENTON, Mo. (AP) - Grimfaced men poked through the smouldering ruins of an old folks home today for the bodies of at least 70 persons who died in the blazing funeral pyre within minutes yesterday.
The searchers, working in spots cooled off by streams of water, had found 16. A deadly stench filled the air. Smoke and steam continued to rise from the ruins.
Seventy of the 155 inmates, including 45 women, were reported missing in the fast-spreading fire. A ripping explosion followed. One eyewitness said the entire building was aflame in three or four minutes. Another said about 15.
Baffled by Speed
Authorities were baffled by the speed with which the flames raced through the two-story brick building.
The fire, probably the worst in Missouri's history, brought quick demands for state legislation that would tighten safety regulations for nursing homes and institutions for the aged.
Dr. JAMES R. AMOS, director of the State Health Division said the home was inspected recently for a license renewal. He said one recommendation was to have electrical wiring checked by s competent electrician. He added he thought the home could have complied with the license requirements.
The victims ranged in age up to 99 years.
One Child Among Missing
One child was among those missing and presumed dead. She was SUSAN KAY PFISTER, 17-year-old invalid daughter of MRS. ALICE WATTS of Lynn, Ark.
The charred bodies were buried in a pile of twisted iron beds, plumbing fixtures, brick and mortar in the basement.
Searchers moved about one ton of debris to locate each body. Some, all but cremated, were so badly burned they were put in cardboard cartons little more than a foot square.
Went Down by Floors
The building went down by floors. The roof fell in. The second floor followed and it all collapsed into the basement.
Sounds of pumps could be heard extracting water from the ruins to aid in the cleanup job.
Continued on page 2