'All over in 10 or 15 minutes'
In 1957, a violent blaze at a Missouri nursing home claimed the lives of 72 residents
NFPA Journal®, January/February 2010
Seventy-two people died when a fire and explosion ripped through the Katie Jane Memorial Home for the Aged in Warrenton, Missouri, on February 17, 1957. According to an Associated Press account that appeared in The New York Times the next day, it was the third fatal nursing home fire in the state in just over four years. It remains the country’s deadliest nursing home fire since 1950.
The Missouri State Highway Patrol investigated, and determined that the fire "probably started in a first-floor rear hallway in an annex to the home’s main dormitory." The cause remains unknown. Witnesses said a muffled explosion during the fire sent flames shooting 60 feet (18 meters) into the air and that "it was all over in 10 or 15 minutes."
Missouri’s then-governor, James T. Blair, Jr., told press that the facility had inadequate fire escapes, had not been fireproofed, and was unsprinklered, and that he would ask the state legislature to revise the laws governing nusing homes.
— Kathleen Robinson