Mount Airy, NC School Fire Kills One, Injures Many, Feb 1957



Mount Airy, -- (AP) -- All but one of more than one of [sic] more than 400 terrified youngsters scrambled out of windows or dashed through doors as a lightning fast fire raged through their school here yesterday.
The toll stood today at one dead and about 30 injured. The school is a smoking ruin.
Many of the grade-school children teetered fearfully on window ledges of the one-story brick building and had to be helped or pushed out.
Several teachers suffered painful injuries as they herded their charges to safety. At least one was burned critically in the room where a boy's body was found.
A. P. PHILLIPS, principal of the Flat Rock School, said, "We never dreamed anybody could get trapped with so many exits." There were four, two at both front and rear.
The fire started at the rear of the auditorium surrounded by classrooms.
Spread Fast.
"It's unbelieveable how fast the flames and smoke filled the building," PHILLIPS said.
PHILLIPS said he did not know how the fire started. He said he was told by a student that the blazes broke out in the stage curtains. Fire Chief J. ED BRANNOCK said the origin of the fire had not been determined.
Firemen said the building, erected about 1925, was destroyed in less than an hour after the fire started about 1:15 p.m.
LARRY ADAMS, 9-year-old third grader, was the only one who didn't get out. His teacher, MRS. CORA BEASLEY, was among five critically burned. Spectators said they assumed MRS. BEASLEY had tried to the last to help LARRY escape.
LARRY was the son of RAY ADAMS, a mill worker here. The father stood silently by as the search for his son's body was made.
"What can you do?" he asked hopelessly.
The fire chief said the ADAMS boy was a polio victim, having been afflicted in the arms. The school principal said the youngster was overweight and "moved about very poorly."
At Dobson, where several of the injured children were hospitalized, DR. D. A. McLAURIN said, "I would like everybody to know that this is the bravest group of children I have ever seen anywhere."
He said he was afradi "there are going to be many, many disfigured faces."
The fire was confined to the 14-classroom elementary school. Three adjacent buildings were not damaged. A fire engine and the city sprinkler truck with a tank full of water were dispatched within minutes of the alarm. A nearby water tank was useless in the fight because there was no way to attach hoses. The tank later collapsed.
"If we had had any number of trucks I don't believe it could have been saved," PHILLIPS remarked.
"The thing that troubles me," he reflected, a frown wrinkling his scorched forehead, "is what could we have done to keep it from happening?"

The Daily Times-News Burlington North Carolina 1957-02-23