29 Killed in Quarter Blaze. Arson Possibility Is Raised by John LaPlace and Ed Anderson
At least 29 people were killed and 15 others injured—six seriously—when a flash fire swept through a three-story building housing three bars and some apartments in the 100 block of Chartres Street Sunday night.
The dead were either killed in the blaze or were mangled in the chaos to escape the searing flames which destroyed the second and third floors of the building.
New Orleans Fire Department Supt. William McCrossen called the holocaust “certainly as far as the death toll goes, one of the worst in the history of New Orleans.”
Police were investigating reports of a firebombing at the Upstairs, 604 Iberville, one of the three bars housed in the building at the intersection of Iberville and Chartres Streets.
A man allegedly was being questioned in connection with the incident shortly after the fire was placed under control.
Witnesses at the scene said the man being questioned allegedly was ejected from the Upstairs Bar shortly before the fire broke out.
A security guard at the Marriott Hotel—across the street from the building—said he heard a hotel guest wanted to burn down the Jimani Bar, 141 Chartres St., another part of the building involved in the blaze.
The other bar located in the building was La Normandie Bar, 139 Chartres St.
Orleans Parish Coroner Dr. Carl Rabin, who was at the scene, said, “It looked like all the people tried to get to the windows facing Chartres Street…it was a mass death.
“Some of them were burned to the bone…It looked like mass hysteria…A mass of dead people.”
Scene “Sickening” Inside the building Rabin said the scene was “sickening.”
He added, “They were just piled up. People in a mass…one falls, then another falls…It’s just a mass of death.”
The names of the dead were not immediately available. Firemen and police, as well as rescue workers, toiled into the night in the eerie shadow of klieg lights to remove bodies from the building.
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clumped together in the stairwel of the Upstairs.
Arms dangled from the second floor windows; some bodies just hung limply—but scorched—from portals in the building in full view of spectators.
McCrossen said the immediate cause of fire was undetermined but was being placed under investigation by the NOFD’s Fire Prevention Bureau.
However, one eyewitnesses at the scene said arson was a definite possibility.
A spokesman for the New Orleans Police Department said that “35 to 40 persons” were on the second floor of the complex when the fire broke out at a party that was supposedly going on at the time.
The fire broke out at 7:56 p.m. and was declared under control just 16 minutes later—at 8:12 p.m. However, the death toll was high and may go higher when authorities are finished shifting through the carnage.
The incident brought to mind the Rault Center fire of last Nov. 29 in which four women leaped to their death from the 13th floor of the building during the noon lunch hour in order to escape the searing flames. McCrossen said that when he was in the building there were “several…many” bodies still waiting to be pulled out.
The fire chief call the blaze “a rapid-moving fire” which destroyed the second floor where most of the persons were situated when the blaze broke out.
Those injured in successful attempts to jump from the flaming structure were taken to Charity Hospital.
Many of those who were killed died when they tried to jump from the building or from the mad chaos which broke out inside the bars.
Seen from Street
The bodies of some of the jumpers were visible from the street. Four were spotted on a fire escape on the Iberville Street side of the structure; six others were lying near the Chartres Street side.
Several bodies were huddled inside the building, all trying to get out at one time.
The body of one victim was found hanging out of the second floor window over the Jimani Bar. He was killed when a window fell on him as he tried to escape the inferno.
Fire trucks from the Central Fire Station—located about three blocks from the scene as well as other parts of the city responded to the alarm, blocking streets in the immediate area to vehicular and pedestrian traffic.
McCrossen said 87 men—manning a total of 13 engines, three hook and ladder units and five special units—fought the brief but deadly blaze.
The second and third floor windows of the complex were damaged with the first floor of the building sustaining water damage.
Linn Quinton, a patron of the Jimani Bar when the fire broke out, described the scene: “We were standing by the piano and I looked up and saw the door was on fire. And the place went up.”
He added, “Everyone panicked and started running for the windows. I jumped to the window in the left corner, opened it, swung out, grabbed a pipe and slid down.”
“I turned around and broke a couple other people’s falls but there were one or two who wouldn’t jump. I knew almost everyone in that bar. They were my friends.”
Two men apparently were killed instantly when they jumped from the building. A third—weighing more than 200 pounds--leaped from the window with his clothes ablaze.
Quinton added: “The small people seemed to get through the window but the bigger people just couldn’t get out. Dave Larsen, a pastor at Metropolitan Community Church, got caught in the window and I just watched him burn.
“He had one arm out and I heard him scream, ‘Oh, God no!’ In the next window beside him three people burned to death while I could only watch.”
There were some reports that the windows on the second and third floors of the building were nailed shut.
A bartender a block away from the scene who identified himself only as Bill, said: “There was just a bit of smoke, then all of a sudden flames just shot out of all the windows. People started jumping out and flames were shooting 20 feet high.
“One man was hanging out a window screaming: ‘Let me jump! Let me jump! to the crowd below. We knew there has to be at least two dead, because they were yelling and screaming behind the window and they never came out.”
Injured Persons’ Names Are Listed
The following is a list of the 15 persons injured—six seriously—in the fire which swept through three bars in a building at Chartres and Iberville Streets.
The injured, their conditions, and where they are being treated include:
--Michael Scarborough, 27; West Jefferson General Hospital; serious condition.
--Sidney Estinache, 50; Charity Hospital; serious condition.
--Luther Boggs, 47; Charity Hospital; serious condition.
--Eddie Jillis, 52; Veterans Administration Hospital; serious condition.
--Larry Stalton, 25; Charity Hospital; serious condition.
--Jim Hembrick, 45; Charity Hospital; serious condition.
--Fred Sharehwa, 22; Charity Hospital; fair condition.
--Eugene Thomas, 42; Charity Hospital; fair condition.
--Jean Gosnell, 36; U.S. Public Health Service Hospital; fair condition.
--Roger Dunn, 36; Charity Hospital; ambulatory condition.
--Adolph Medina, 32; Charity Hospital; ambulatory condition.
--Bob Vann; Charity Hospital; ambulatory condition.
--Francis Dufrene, 21; Charity Hospital; ambulatory condition.
--Phillip Bird; Charity Hospital; ambulatory condition.
--Linn Quintonn, 25 Charity Hospital; ambulatory condition.
Blood, Moans: Charity Scene: Med Teams Race Time Against Confusion by Clarence DuBos
A nurse’s aide mopped blood off the floor while an intern drew more from the arm of a scorched patient.
Doctors in tennis shoes cut dead skin off the chest of a middle-aged man who moaned steadily while he was rocking on his side.
More ambulances arriving with more stretchers bearing more cut and burned victims—that was the scene at the Accident Emergency room of Charity Hospital well into Sunday night.
A fire flashed through a building housing three French Quarter bars several hours earlier on the corner of Iberville and Chartres Sts.
Outside in the visiting area friends and family waited, with questions, prayers, and scattered bits of information.
Confusion seemed to reign, yet tightly woven into the mesh of helter-skelter was a delicate pattern—a pattern of doctors and nurses racing against time to save the lives of fifteen victims whose injuries ranged from broken fingers to multiple fractures and third degree burns.
Nurses divided themselves into teams. Some gathered blood. Others tried to get names from those who could talk, and still others checked for vital signs of life.
Once every few minutes a doctor or nurse went out into the main hallway, where other patients from “less important” accidents patiently waited for treatment.
One victim, who was able to move about somewhat freely and talk, asked for assistance in making a telephone call. His fingers were burned too badly to take the nickel out of his pocket and dial the numbers. Wide-eyed at the floor, he continued:
“Listen…David? I’ve had sort of an accident. Yes, I’m at Charity Hospital. Yes, please come quick. Please come..I hurt…a fire.
Tears ran freely down his cheeks. He slowly hung the receiver up and walked back into the Emergency Room.
He couldn’t have been more than 19, and at five feet, seven inches tall, he made the sign of
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the cross as he explained how his slight build saved his life.
“I was on the second floor of the Upstairs,” he said, “all of a sudden there was a noise , and when I turned to the door I could see nothing but flames.”
“Naturally, everybody panicked. They ran to the windows. My God, I’m so lucky I was the first one out. But it was terrible. There were steel bars on the windows and no one could get through!”
He began to sob again.
“My best friend was up on the third floor and I haven’t heard from him or seen him yet!”
He slowly seemed to be gathering his wits again. Shaking his head slowly and looking
“You see how slim I am. I was first to get to the window, and thank God…thank God I was able to get out. But the others..they…”
“I got out the window, hung by my hands on the bars, and dropped to the ground (from the second floor).”
He reentered the Emergency Room asking if anyone could X-ray his hand.
Special guards tried to keep other patients in the hall and curious bystanders away from the vital entrances, where a steady stream of doctors, nurses and a few patients who could walk poured in and out, in and out, in and out. The race was on.
Two priests entered the room and tried to comfort victims.
A small child with a patch and a tube on his arm lay on a stretcher in the Emergency Room, watching doctors work on the fire victims, wondering what was the matter.
More ambulances and more police arrived, and tide of friends and family swelled in the halls.
Rumors and numbers floated around en masse. No one knew for sure “who” or “how many” there were, just “how badly.”
The pieces of the pattern began to fall quicker and quicker into place: there were 15 in the Emergency Room; at least 29 were reported dead at the scene; those in the hospital were badly hurt, but were probably going to live.
The race was over.
Scene of French Quarter Fire Is Called Dante’s ‘Inferno,’ Hitler’s Incinerators
Victims Reported Burned to Death Fleeing Spreading Blaze by John LaPlace
The scene inside Upstairs Bar was from Dante’s ‘Inferno,’ Hitler’s Incinerators.
At least 29 persons burned to death when trampled by others fleeing from a rapidly spreading blaze, according to Orleans Parish Coroner, Dr. Carl H. Rabin.
The blaze rushed through the bar driving the victims to windows apparently closed over by paneling or some type of decoration. One survivor said “steel bars.”
The horror of the holocaust could be seen easily from the street.
One victim died while squirming through a partially opened window.
The slim build of one survivor saved his life.
“You see how slim I am,” the survivor said at Cont. in Sec. 1, Page 2, Col. 1
Fire Scene Said “Inferno” continued
at Charity Hospital. “I was the first to get to the windows and thank God…thank God…thank God I was able to get out. But the others…they…”
They were mangled and burned as they fought to get out the windows on the Chartres Street side of the building—falling one on top of the other.
The dead were piled knee-high in a twisted, charred mass of death—some a few feet from safety.
“They were just piled up. People in a mass…one falls then another falls…It’s just a mass of death…It’s sickening,” Dr. Rabin said.
In another corner of the bar, near a fire escape with no stairs to the ground, were the bodies of others.
At least two others died crawling under a piano on the right side of the gutted barroom to the windows.
Dr. Rabin counted 29, but the death toll could rise when the badly charred, entangled bodies are removed.
Bodies were so badly burned, said Rabin, that identification would be difficult and take some time.
New Orleans firefighters extinguished the blaze quickly—14 minutes after arriving on the scene—but that was not fast enough.
The grim job of removing bodies would continue in the glare of klieg lights mounted from fire trucks parked in narrow French Quarter streets of Chartres and Iberville until early Monday morning.
Coroner’s assistants would untangle bodies two at a time, lowering them to the ground in a fire department snorkel, Rabin said. Then transferring bodies to the city morgue or Charity Hospital; where identifications of the victims of “one of New Orleans’ worst fires” would be made, he said.
Source: Times-Picayune, June 25, 1973.