Cheektowaga, NY School Fire Near Buffalo, Mar 1954

Remains of School School Memorial

PROBES OPEN TODAY IN SCHOOL FIRE IN SUBURB OF BUFFALO.

Cheektowaga (AP) -- Three investigations were opened today into a fire that snuffed out the lives of 10 sixth grade pupils and destroyed the frame annex of an elementary school in this heavily populated Buffalo suburb.
The fire, which flashed through the 100-foot-long building just before noon recess yesterday, caused injury to 23 other persons, including four 11-year-olds whose burns were considered critical.
The dead included six girls and four boys. Their badly charred bodies were found pressed against what was left of a window wall. A few feet away were a doorway and broken windows -- avenues of escape the youngsters never found.
Nineteen other pupils, three teachers and the principal of the school were hospitalized with burns or injuries. Two of the 31 pupils in the building escaped uninjured.
JOHN DWYER, Erie County district attorney, opened an investigation to determine if there had been criminal negligence on the part of anyone concerned.
Other inquiries were launched by an engineer for the New York State Education Department and by the local board of education.
The dead children were in a music class when the fire broke out. Three adults in the room at the time shared credit for leading those who escaped to safety.
The dead were identified as ELIZABETH LIES; MARLENE DU PONT; BRUCE BRAND; BARBARA WATKINS; VERNA BAGLEY; MICHAEL HAUSE; PATRICIA STEGER and REBA SMITH, all 11; and BLAINE POSS and JOHN MENDOFIK, both 10.
Attendants at Meyer Memorial Hospital said today four of the injured children were in "very critical" condition. They were SUSAN JORS, PATTY BLENDOWSKI, GEORGE HOFFMAN and DONALD KELLEHER, all 11 years old.
Four others were reported in serious condition.
The other children were expected to recover from their burns. But some were disfigured, possibly for life.
The adults who were in the room with the children were the regular teacher, MRS. MELBA SELBOLD, MISS JANE MAHANY of Buffalo, a pretty 20-year-old practice teacher, and ROBERT K. WINTERS of Syracuse, a salesman.
WINTERS escaped with minor injuries.
MISS MAHANY, who suffered burns of the legs and cuts, was in fair condition today.
MRS. SELBOLD was in fair condition.
MISS MAHANY, who was planning to be married next June, said from her hospital bed, "There was a loud noise, very sudden."
"I guess it was an explosion, it must have been," she continued. "The door from the classroom to the hall was open at the time and I suddenly saw smoke pour down the hall."
She said she and MRS. SELBOLD smashed locked windows with their hands and pushed the children out.
"I think we got them all," MISS MAHANY added, "I hope so."
At that point, no one had told her of the dead children.
WINTERS, a cap and gown salesman who was checking on delivery of choir robes, said he broke some windows and helped some children out too. He added:
"The heat got so bad in a matter of seconds that we had to get out."
The building, about 100 feet long, was demolished. The large brick buildings of the Cleveland Hill High School and the main elementary school building, connected with the annex by a long enclosed walkway, were not damaged seriously. Hundreds of other children were in those buildings. Noneof those was hurt.

Daily Messenger Canandaigua New York 1954-04-01