July 12, 1973 is a dark day in the history of the National Archives. A massive fire tore through the top floor of the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, destroying or damaging thousand of military personnel records.
Forty years ago this week, a devastating fire tore through the top of floor of the National Archives in St. Louis just after midnight. This photo shows the tremendous heat that warped shelves. The ashes on the shelves are the remains of cubic foot cartons of records.
At its peak, 42 fire districts were fighting the blaze. The fire burned uncontrolled for more than 22 hours.
About 73 to 80 percent of the approximately 22 million individual Official Military Personnel Files (OMPFs) stored in the building were destroyed. The records lost were those of former members of the Army, the Army Air Force, and the Air Force who served between 1912 and 1963.
The work of recovering veterans’ information and repairing their documents continues 40 years on. Two Records Reconstruction Teams handle about 2,300 fire-related reference requests each week.
To learn more about the fire and how it has affected the National Archives, our staff, and the veterans we serve, go to: http://go.usa.gov/jCka