English: Memorial to the Knights of Columbus H...
Memorial to the Knights of Columbus Hostel fire, December 12, 1942 which occurred in St. John’s Newfoundland, (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On December 12, 1942, there was a fire at the Knights of Columbus hostel in St. John’s, Newfoundland. It was one of the most deadly structural fires in Canadian history!

99 dead, some of them Army and Airmen; 59 were identified, but the other 41 were so badly burned that they couldn’t be identified. 104 were injured.  All victims were a part of 500 dancers who had gathered for the weekly barn dance.

The fire broke out about 11 P.M. Townspeople first learned that something was wrong when cries of “Fire!” was heard through a radio broadcast of the dance coming from the auditorium, and then suddenly the microphone went dead.

Fire roared through the two-story building, burning spectacularly through windows and doors.  Piles of bodies were found near the exits in an apparent mad scramble to escape.  The blocked passage ways caused difficulties as the firemen forced their way in after fighting the flames for nearly three hours in bitter weather.

Some servicemen who were sleeping in the upstairs dormitories escaped by leaping out of the windows.

The building was well supplied with hoses and fire extinguishers, but in all the panic, no one thought of using them.

Some survivors said they heard a loud explosion from the kitchen seconds before flames began in the dance hall.

Help was offered from elsewhere.  For instance, Mayor Tobin of Boston offered plasma and the services of a leading Boston physician.

For more on this tragedy I suggest you read Stu Beitler‘s article on GenDisasters website.


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