Four Fires in Two Days Claim 32 Victims—27 Children
WHEN THE FINAL FIGURES for fatalities from fire for the year 1957 are totaled, all evidence points to the nation having set a new and grim record—particularly among the very young and very old.
As evidence, take the following report of four typical fires, three of them in one day, which claimed 32 dead (27 of them children) and many injured. If anything is calculated to stimulate the nation’s fire fighters to rededicate themselves to the program of reducing this “Diary of Death,” as instituted by the International Association of Fire Chiefs, it should be testimony like this.
Tenement Fire Claims 18 Lives
An early morning fire in a Niagara Falls, N. Y., tenement house killed 17 persons on November 16, and injured ten others, one of whom died several days later. A mother and eight of her children, together with seven children of a second family, were among the fatal victims. Fire Chief Leo F. Heck described the death toll as the worst in the city’s history.
The tenement located at 2449 Allen Avenue, was of three-story frame construction and contained 37 rooms. It had been used in the past as a hotel but at the time of the fire only nine of the rooms were in use as apartments which were occupied by two families and two individuals. Ironically, the owner of the building, William Dietz, was attempting to evict these tenants at the time of the fire. He had recently remodeled the building and was planning to use it as a warehouse.
The multiple dwelling was not equipped with an outside fire escape, but contained two interior stairways which housing authorities stated enabled the building to meet the minimum requirements of the state multiple residence law.
First reports credited an explosion of an oil-fired steam boiler as the probable cause. However, the owner said the boiler was not in use at the time and fire fighters reported no evidence of an explosion.
The first alarm sounded at 4:32 a.m. after being discovered simultaneously by Captain Jack Dietz of the Niagara Falls
Police Department and father of the building owner, who was cruising in a radio car in the area, and by Joseph Bytheway, a guard at the Olin Mathieson Chemical Co. plant, to the rear and across Buffalo Avenue from the scene.
Captain Dietz reported that it was impossible for him or his patrolmandriver to enter the building following discovery due to the raging flames and heavy smoke. Horace Ewing, father of eight of the dead children, said that he and his wife were awakened by the smoke. They rushed to a hallway door but found their exit blocked by smoke. Ewing then smashed a window and seeing the arriving fire apparatus jumped to the ground. Mrs. Ewing also jumped but was killed in the fall.
Sanford Reid, father of the other children killed in the fire, also jumped to the ground and then caught three of his children including a five-months-old infant, who were thrown to him by one of the older children. A fourth child was killed when Reid missed the catch. When fire fighters arrived, the stairs leading to the upper floors were blocked and the interior was a mass of flames.
A second alarm was turned in within a few minutes of the first. Battalion Chief Sail, responding on the second, saw the flames in the sky while still 11 blocks from the scene and radioed a general alarm. Ten companies comprising a total of 60 men, brought the fire under control by 5:40 a.m. According to the Niagara County coroner, all the victims inside the building died of asphyxiation.
Local and state authorities began an immediate investigation. Niagara District Attorney William H. Earl indicated that if the facts warranted, the matter would be laid before the grand jury.
Eight Die in Belpre, Ohio, Fire
A mother and seven of her children were killed by fire which swept their tiny second-floor apartment in Belpre, Ohio, on October 20. The dead were Mrs. Vivian Snider, 36; four daughters, Linda, 14; Sheila, 11; Mona, 7, and Reta Jo, 5 months; and three sons, Mickey, 9; David, 3, and Danny, 2.
The father, Lloyd Snider and his oldest child, Ronnie, 16, were visiting in Vienna, W. Va., not far from the small Washington County community. Another son, Darrell, 13, was in a Parkersburg, W. Va., hospital across the Ohio River.
The fire was discovered in the early morning by neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Russell Kerns. They summoned firemen and Mr. Kerns rushed up the stairs to the only exit from the apartment in the old riverfront structure and managed to kick in a wood panel of the door, but smoke and heat drove him back.
Firemen found the victims in two rooms above a vacant store. Mrs. Snider and four children were in a sitting room; the other three children were in another bedroom.
The fire was believed caused by defective wiring. Mr. Snider and his son Ronnie returned home about 3:00 a.m., to find the fire extinguished, and their family and home gone. The grief-stricken father told reporters, “I don’t know where I’ll be going or where I’ll be staying.”
Four Killed in Newark Fire
On the same day, four children, aged 1, 4, 6 and 9 burned to death in a fire which destroyed two frame houses in Newark, N. J. The parents were burned and injured in leaping to the sidewalk with their eight-year-old daughter. The wind-swept fire which ultimately involved other structures and a factory, started outside in the rear, and swept inside, blocking stairways. Three alarms were sounded; two firemen were injured.
Three Die in Long Beach Township, N. J.
In still another fire that same day, discovered at 5:30 a.m., a man, his wife and 15-year-old daughter died when their six-room ranch home in Beach Haven Gardens, N. J., was destroyed. When Fire Chief John Daniels and the 28 Beach Haven firemen reached the scene, the entire house was involved. This fire also reportedly started in an outside garage and involved the house which was built by the occupant.