Puxico, MO Nursing Home Fire, July 1956
Nursing Home Is Swept by Fire; 12 Patients Killed
Only One Woman Rescued From Blazing Structure at Puxico, Mo.
PUXICO, Mo., July 31 (AP) -- A fast-spreading fire engulfed a nursing home "like paper" late last night, turning it into a blazing death trap for 12 of the 13 residents.
Most of the victims, all from Puxico or nearby towns, were trapped in or beside their beds. Nine were from 72 to 91 years old.
Only MRS. CHARITY FREDERICK, a 77-year-old mental patient from Poplar Bluff, escaped. She was pulled to safety by two men who scrambled up to the roof of the front porch, and smashed a window of her second floor room.
DR. VERNON H. SKILLINGS, 38-year-old Osteopath, former mayor of the town and chief of its volunteer fire department, directed the rescue of MRS. FREDERICK along with the REV. R. S. RAGSDALE, 44-year-old Baptist minister.
DR. SKILLINGS, who treated residents of the home when they needed medical attention, said he knew where MRS. FREDERICK'S room was and saw that this part of the home was free of flames at first.
"The rest of the building was a big mass of flames," DR. SKILLINGS said, "and we couldn't reach any of the others."
The part where MRS. FREDERICK'S room was located was swept by flames only seconds after she was removed. MRS. FREDERICK, unable to talk, was taken back to Poplar BLuff by her daughter.
Everyone in the house apparently was asleep when the fire broke out.
"The whole interior was on fire and flames seemed to be shooting clear to the third floor when I got there," said JACK HARDY, a carpenter who was among the first on the scene. "The fire spread like paper and the building was a mass of flames before we could summon the fire department."
The body of MRS. BERTHA REAGAN, 55, who overhauled the old three-story building and opened her nursing home 21 months ago, was found in the first-floor kitchen. She apparently was trying to get out the back door. It was locked.
Her 7-year-old grandson, DAVID JOHNSON, was found on the third floor. All the others were on the second.
Two patients, MISS LOIS ROGERS, 30, and D. O. KINNEMON, 76, both of Puxico, entered the home only yesterday.
JOHN RYAN, chief of the nearby Poplar Bluff fire department, said he and Sgt. JACK PRITCHARD of the Missouri Highway Patrol found a hole burned in the ceiling above a sofa on the first floor. They theorized a smoldering cigarette had fallen on the sofa.
"I had no hope my mother would be saved," said MRS. IRA ENGLAND, a daughter who lives in nearby Poplar Bluff when she first heard of the tragedy from another sister in a St. Louis hospital.
MRS. ENGLAND said she received a telephone call from her sister, MRS. EULA PRICKETT, who had heard the news on a radio broadcast. MRS. ENGLAND and her husband rushed to Puxico by car and found her mother after making inquiries around the ruins.
The nursing home was inspected and approved by the Missouri State Board of Health less than two months ago.
The list of the dead:
MRS. BERTHA REAGAN, 55, Puxico, owner and proprietor of the nursing home.
DAVID JOHNSON, 7, Puxico, her grandson.
TOM GARD, 83, Fisk, Mo.
MRS. HARRIET SHAFFER, early 80's, Puxico.
D. O. KINNEMON, 76, Puxico.
MRS. PARALEE DUGGER, 85, Fisk, the only bed patient.
MISS LOIS RODGERS, 30, Puxico.
GEORGE CASEY, 82, Puxico.
JAMES F. STRINGFELLOW, 73, Chaffee, Mo.
MRS. ROSA ALLWOOD, 72, Chaffee.
NANCY A. DEASON, 91, Dexter, Mo.
MATTIE MAE YOUNG, in 70's, Dexter.
The Chillicothe Constitution Tribune Missouri 1956-07-31