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Vintage KSDK: The day the Ralston-Purina plant burned

Jan. 10, 1962, marked one of the most challenging days in the history of the St. Louis Fire Department

ST. LOUIS — Fifty-nine years ago this week marked one of the most challenging days in the history of the St. Louis Fire Department.

Jan. 10, 1962, was also one of the coldest days ever in St. Louis.

Grain dust caused an explosion that set the Ralston-Purina plant on the edge of downtown St. Louis on fire.

Making matters worse, the high temperature that day was just 4 degrees.

"It was very bitter cold that day," said retired St. Louis fire chief Tom Long. "It was something I'll never forget."

The water being poured on the fire eventually left equipment, roads, buildings, even firefighters encased in ice.

Credit: KSDK
January 10, 1962. A grain dust explosion rocks the Ralston-Purina plant on the edge of downtown St. Louis.



Long was a captain at the time. We interviewed him for another version of this story back in 2014.

"You took a breath, your nostrils closed on you,” recalled Long. “You were gasping for breath all the time. It was a long two days, very long two days."

And a deadly few days.

Two Ralston workers died in the explosion. A fire captain died of a heart attack, and 22 firefighters and at least 36 Ralston workers were hurt.

The 12-story tall grain elevator was destroyed in the explosion and fire.

And as we all know, the plant that went by the nickname Checkerboard Square," would be rebuilt.

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