Council Bluffs, IA Rest Home Fire, Feb 1957
SEEK CAUSE OF REST HOME BLAZE IN WHICH 14 DIED.
Council Bluffs (AP) -- State and city fire officials Thursday dug through masses od debris in a search for the cause of a flash fire that killed 14 patients in a rest home.
Flames enveloped the 75-year-old, three-story rest home "all of a sudden" Wednesday.
There were 43 persons in the building at the time.
Of those who got out, one died later in a hospital and 13 others -- patients and employes -- needed hospital treatment.
One patient was listed as in critical condition.
Firemen who answered the alarm within four or five minutes after it was sounded told of seeing one woman kneeling in prayer in her bed as tongues of flames swirled over her.
So fierce were the flames and so fast did they spread that the firemen never had a chance at a last second rescue of her.
Firemen could find no survivor who could immediately tell them what started the fire.
Altogether 17 patients, 10 employes and 3 children of the home manager, KENNETH PATIN, were carried from the blazing building, hobbled out on crutches, sped their wheel chairs onto the hilltop lawn of the structure or raced out on foot.
Many of the 13 found dead -- in a tangled mass of beds, broken beams and other debris -- died in their beds.
The 14th died in a hospital.
Dr. Edmund C. Zimmerer, state health commissioner, said the home was inspected last Aug. 9 and that it was properly licensed.
He said the license was issued to MRS. IVY LEE GILMORE.
Dr. Zimmerer said an earlier report that the license for the Council Bluffs Convalescent Home had not been renewed after an inspection Jan. 30 was incorrect.
The renewal which was withheld, he said, involved another home -- the Gilmore Nursing Home -- operated by Mrs. Gilmore.
Lyle Roper, Council Bluffs public service director, said he and a health department inspector looked over the convalescent home last month and it met requirements for fire safety.
He said an automatic fire detection system recently was installed.
Fire Chief WALDO MERRILL described the flames as sweeping the building "all of a sudden."
VIOLET HEDRICK, an employe, said she sprang up from her lunch table at the cry of "fire" and ran to the ladies room where she saw curtains ablaze.
"The next thing it looked like the whole place was on fire," she related.
ART RANSON, 81, said he was playing pitch with fellow patient LONNIE APPLEGATE, 67, when "we heard the hollering and jumped up to see what was happening. It was fire."
"It did go fast. I can't remember how LONNIE and I got out -- but I lost all my chewing tobacco."
LIMUEL PURCELL, 87, was lunching when the startled cries of others brought him to his feet and sent him running "into a mass of flames."
"I turned and ran the other way, like I should have done at first, and got out -- I don't know how. I lost my hair -- a lot of it."
BUELAH FENN, an employe trapped for a time in the building, said "It just seemed like the flames went everywhere at once!"
The blaze started in the rear of the building and it was in that area that 13 of the victims died.
It was the worst fire from the standpoint of deaths in the history of Council Bluffs, a city of about 50,000 population.
Victims identified were:
MRS. BERTHA JENKINS.
MRS. ANNA BENSON.
MRS. BERTHA BRADLEY.
HENRY N. MACE.
Police found MRS. ANNIE ORME, about 75, who had been listed among the dead after she tried to enter the back door of a home in the neighborhood early Thursday.
She told police she ran out of the rest home and into nearby woods as soon as she heard the building was on fire and spent the evening wandering in the area.
She was wearing a light sweater over her dress when found.
MRS. ORME was taken to Jennie Edmundson Hospital suffering from shock and exposure but hospital attendants reported she was "fine" this morning.
Still missing and unaccounted for Wednesday morning were MRS. ROSE COCHRAN and MRS. MATHILDA LUCHOW.
Waterloo Daily Courier Iowa 1957-02-14