The Upstairs Lounge Fire


Next Day Report in West Coast Newspaper

Fire leaves ‘mass of dead’ in bar

French Quarter revelers trapped

New Orleans (AP)—A flash fire swept through a second story bar in the French Quarter Sunday night, and authorities said 29 persons died.

Several persons leaped from the building in flames.

Fifteen persons were injured.

The coroner’s office said early Monday that there was confusion over the exact number of dead, but they could confirm only 29 deaths.

Bodies lay stacked under a burned piano and jammed against three windows. One man’s body was kneeling beside a window, with one foot outside.

An arm dangled outside another window with a six-inch piece of unburned green sports coat around the wrist.

Fifteen persons were known injured.

“We were standing around the piano and I looked up and saw the door was on fire,” said Laurell Quinton, 25, of Houston, Tex.

“The place just went up. 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 of other people’s falls, but there were one or two who just wouldn’t jump.

“I know almost everyone in that bar. They were my friends.”

Two men apparently died in the jump, police said.

A third man, described as weighing more than 200 pounds, leaped from a window with his clothes ablaze. Firemen dragged him across the street and put him in an ambulance.

After the fire, the scene inside was ghastly, with bodies literally stacked on top of each other. Because of the mass, officials trouble determining the number of dead.

Bert Barere, an assistant Orleans Parish coroner, said he had counted 28 bodies. Coroner Carl Rabin said he toured the burned ruins of the bar and had been unable earlier to determine the exact numbers of dead.

Rabin said, “They were just piled up. People in a mass. One falls then another falls. It’s just a mass of death. It’s sickening.”

Some apparently escaped down a fire escape but Quinton said he didn’t know anything about the fire door.

“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” Quinton said.

“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.”

The bar as popular on Sundays, offering “all the food and beer you can drink for $2.”

A bartender a block away said, “There was just a bit of smoke, then all of a sudden flames shot out of all of the windows. People started jumping out and flames were shooting 20 feet high.

“One man was hanging out a window and screaming, ‘Let me jump! Let me jump!’ to a crowd below. We knew there had to be at least two dead because they were yelling and screaming behind the window and they never came out.”

Fire Supt. William McCrossan said early Monday that the cause of the fire had still not been determined.

When asked about reports that witnesses had told firemen an angry patron started the fire, McCrossan replied that none of his men had talked to anyone who claimed to have seen who started the fire.

“There is absolutely no foundation as to the cause of this fire,” he said. “Anyone who says anything differently is only guessing.”

McCrossan said the fire was under control 16 minutes after the first alarm sounded. City fire headquarters is only three blocks away.

The blaze was in a place called “The Upstairs,” one block off Canal Street and across the street from the new 40-story Marriott Hotel.

 McCrossan said, “It could be one of the worst fires in the city history in term of people killed.

“It burned so badly in here it’s hard to tell what happened.”

The wire service story about the Upstairs Lounge fire is picked up by The Oregonian, largest newspaper in the Pacific Northwest.
Source: The Oregonian, June 25, 1973.
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