Amarillo, TX Convalescent Home Fire, Dec 1950



Oldsters Trapped In Beds

By Paul Timmons
Ten aged and helpless people died in their beds yesterday as fire roared through a dormitory at Walker's Convalescent Home, northeast of Amarillo.
Loss of life was the highest in any single tragedy in the history of Amarillo.
Only one patient in the dormitory was able to escape the flames that engulfed the flimsy former barracks building within minutes after the fire was discovered. He was PHILIP JELLERY. MR. JELLERY is crippled in one leg but is able to walk with assistance.
Only charred bones remain of the bodies of the victims.
One other person, who was visiting in the home when the fire struck, suffered serious burns. She is MRS. N. P. TAYLOR. She was visiting her step-mother, MRS. W. P. VINSEN, one of the victims. She was momentarily overcome by smoke and heat but recovered in time to escape.
She was the only person seriously injured. Several attendants of the home suffered minor burns and other injuries.
Funeral home attendants were unable to remove the bodies of victims for several hours after the blaze.
The building in which the 10 old people died was a converted Army barracks moved to the home from Amarillo Air Field when the home was expanded a few years ago.
The convalescent home consisted of five buildings, the largest of which was originally the clubhouse of the old Hillcrest Country Club. One of the buildings was used as an office and living quarters by members of the staff. The others, including the old clubhouse, the laundry building and two converted barracks used as dormitories, were connected by enclosed passageways.
The buildings were arranged in two rows. In the front row, from east to west, were the office, a dormitory and the old clubhouse. In the rear row were the dormitory and the laundry.
Thirty-seven patients housed in other buildings at the convalescent home were removed to safety.
After the first flash of tragedy, the blaze spread slowly, traveling along the covered passageways which connected all buildings of the home.
Attendants and neighbors were able to remove practically all furnishings from a second dormitory before the flames reached it.
Demolition of the covered ramp from the central dormitory to the main building of the home prevented further spread of the fire.
The fire was discovered about 4 o'clock and was not brought under control until after nightfall.
Members of the city fire departments were handicapped in fighting the blaze by a lack of water. City water mains do not extend in the home and the limited supply carried in booster tanks on the trucks was inadequate to control the flames.
Nearest available water was in a creek, a short distance from the home. Banks of the creek are high and steep. Nearest place a pumper truck could be located was about 15 feet above the water level. The first pumper truck on the scene was unable to draw water from the creek.
By the time another pumper could be spotted farther down the creek, where banks are lower, the second dormitory was virtually destroyed.
Without adequate water to control the fire, firefighters resorted to demolition to prevent further spread of the flames. Cables anchored to a fire truck were tied to timbers of the ramp connecting the second dormitory to the main building of the home - the former, clubhouse building. The ramp was jerked down and pulled beyond the reach of the flames.
Demolition work had been completed before tank trucks, one owned by the City and others owned by oil companies and other firms, arrived with several thousand gallons of water.
With water from the tank trucks and from the creek firemen were able to bring the blaze under control and begin the grim task of cooling the smouldering ruin, so bodies of the victims could be removed.
Exacuation of the aged patients from the scene began soon after the fire broke out and continued for more than an hour. Ambulances and private cars shuttled from the home to St. Anthony's Hospital. A few of the patients were taken to private homes but the majority were taken to the hospital.
The fire was discovered by MRS. J. W. WRIGHT, attendant who was in charge of the building where the 10 persons died.
MRS. WRIGHT heard one of the patients call to her and stepped into the hall. She was met by a blast of heat and found smoke filling the hall. She could see less than half the length of the dormitory.
She was able to get out of the building with one partially-crippled patient, and gave the alarm.
"I was in the last room next to the bathroom, at the east end of the building, with those four little old ladies," MRS. WRIGHT said last night.
She named the four as MRS. BAER, MRS. DENNIS, MRS. VINSON and MRS. PARSONS.
"MRS. TAYLOR was there with her mother"
"I heard on of the men calling for someone to bring him a match."
MRS. WRIGHT explained that several of the patients were smokers but that, due to their feeble condition, none of them were permitted to keep matches. She said attendants regularly lighted pipes for the smokers.
"When I stepped out into the hall the heat struck me. I couldn't tell where the fire was. The hall was full of smoke."

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