Auburn, ME Nursery Fire, Jan 1945
HOME UNLICENSED WHERE 17 DIED.
_______ State Price Of Nursery Tragedy.
Governor Seeks Facts in Fire Fatal to 16 Infants at Auburn.
Auburn, Maine, Jan. 31 - (AP) - The privately owned boarding home that became a funeral pyre for 16 babies and a nurse today was being operated without a legally-required license from the Bureau of Social Welfare, HARRY O. PAGE, State Commissioner of Health and Welfare, disclosed tonight.
PAGE arrived in Auburn from the State Capital to launch an investigation into the tragedy even as stunned relatives, who had filed silently through the morgue all day long, were identifying the last of the victims.
Only one corpse remained unclaimed. Authorities said it was not the body of little DIANE SAVARD.
However, none of the bodies removed from the wreckage had been so identified, leading to speculation by authorities that some of the badly-charred babies might have been misidentified.
Three women and five children escaped the flames, which originated in the kitchen about a coal stove. MRS. ROSA COTE, 50, a nurse, was among the victims.
The commissioner said technical violations had prevented issuance of a permit for the home operated by MRS. EVA LACOSTE for the benefit of mothers engaged in war work or other daily jobs.
Boarded Over Maximum
A violation cited by the commissioner was the fact MRS. LACOSTE was boarding more than the maximum of 16 babies prescribed under the state code.
No action had been taken to force compliance with regulations because of a belief MRS. LACOSTE was willing to cooperate. PAGE said, even though she had delayed in doing so.
"Our mistake was that a deadline should have been prescribed at some point," he said. "She would either have had to make the corrections or be closed up."
The commissioner emphasized that there had been no indication of a fire hazard in the house, located about two miles from the center of town in the New Auburn district.
"There were rear and front exits, a number of windows, children were all quartered on the ground floor and could have been easily removed," he said.
Two theories were advanced by city officials as to the fire's origin after the still-hysterical MRS. LACOSTE denied an earlier statement that the coal heating stove in the kitchen had exploded.
Noting that a three-burner oil cookstove had been located close to the heater, Police Chief ROBERT W. HARRICK hazarded a guess that heat from the coal stove might have been sufficient to shatter the glass oil bottle, permitting the contents to flare up.
Fire Chief RALPH HARRIDEN expressed belief that a gas explosion might have occurred in the pipes running from the basement hot water heater. He said they were badly seared.
In Augusta, Governor HORACE A. HILDRETH said, "I am trying to ascertain all the facts in this horrible disaster, and after we have the facts, we will take the most intelligent action we can to safeguard against future disasters of this kind."
"I am profoundly shocked at the tragedy in Auburn where fire snuffed out the lives of 16 helpless children," the governor said, "and my deepest sympathy is extended to the parents and relatives of their children."
Lost Babies in Fall.
MRS. LACOSTE said she was awakened in time to see flames catching the kitchen walls of the flimsy story and half frame structure.
She seized two cribs, the babies still in them, and started for the door.
"Then I fell down," MRS. LACOSTE related hysterically. "I had them in my arms. I lost them when I fell down."
The woman was treated by a physician, as she kept moaning: 'The poor little things. They were so young, so small."
Fire Chief RALPH HARNDEN, tears in his eyes, told of the frustrated attempts of his men to reach the screaming victims, only to be stopped dead by sheets of flames.
With help from nearby Lewiston, firemen finally were able to fight their way into the bedrooms, both on the first floor.
"It was a terrifying sight," the chief added. "We found many of them (the children) with their heads through the slats of their cribs where they apparently had tried to escape. I carried out six myself in blankets."
Continued on page 2