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Fire kills 10 in Mo. home for elderly and mentally ill

Published Nov. 28, 2006

An early-morning fire broke out in a group home for the elderly and mentally ill Monday, killing 10 people and injuring two dozen others in a blaze that the governor said was being treated as a crime.

The blaze reduced the privately run Anderson Guest House to a skeleton of concrete blocks and stunned this rural community of about 1,800 people in the Ozark hills of southwest Missouri.

Gov. Matt Blunt said investigators were treating the fire as suspicious.

"We're not saying it is definitely a crime scene, but we are treating it as if it is and trying to determine if the fire was set by somebody who had a nefarious motive," Blunt said.

The home had 32 residents and two employees inside when the fire was reported around 1 a.m. The dead ranged in age from early 20s to the elderly.

Officials refused to say how the victims died or whether they had any warning of the flames. The home had fire alarms but no sprinklers.

Neighbor Steven Spears, 47, saw the blaze erupt through security cameras posted outside his home.

"I saw the front door blow open with fire," Spears said. "I know most of them (the residents). I've talked to all of them at one time or another. It still hasn't hit me."

The home was operated by Joplin River of Life Ministries Inc. A woman who answered the phone there said the firm would not immediately comment.

Authorities were trying to determine if the blaze was linked to a smaller fire at the facility Saturday morning, said Assistant Fire Marshal Greg Carrell.

No one was injured in the first fire, which was still under investigation when the second blaze began.

Monday's blaze was one of the worst fires at a health care facility since 2003, when a patient suffering from dementia and multiple sclerosis set fire to her bed and burned down a care center in Hartford, Conn., killing 16 residents.

Six months later, in September 2003, a fire killed 15 patients in Nashville.