IMAGE: ATF investigators
Mike Gullett  /  AP
ATF officials look through the rubble left after a fire at a group home for the elderly and mentally ill in Anderson, Mo., on Monday.
updated 11/27/2006 4:58:38 PM ET 2006-11-27T21:58:38

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 cinder blocks and stunned this rural community of about 1,800 people tucked in the Ozark hills about 35 miles south of Joplin.

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 dead ranged in age from early 20s to the elderly. Eighteen people were taken to hospitals and six were treated at the scene, authorities said.

Authorities initially thought another facility resident had escaped, but they learned the person was not at the home at the time.

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

He did not believe anyone was injured in the first fire, which was still under investigation when the second blaze began.

2 in serious condition
Two people were in serious condition at a Springdale, Ark., hospital. Freeman Hospital West in Joplin would not release the conditions of four people hurt in the blaze. All the other survivors who went to area hospitals were either in good condition or had been treated and released, officials said.

Those treated at the scene were at another facility operated by the home’s owner, Joplin River of Life Ministries Inc., Casey said.

The cause was under investigation, and names of the victims had not been released.

A woman who answered the phone at Joplin River of Life Ministries on Monday morning said it was not releasing any information and hung up the phone.

Anderson, a town of about 2,000, is about 40 miles south of Joplin.

“I saw the front door blow open with fire,” said neighbor Steven Spears, 47, who said he was up watching TV and saw the blaze erupt through security cameras he has outside his home. “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.”

Unrelated deficiencies found
Inspectors from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, which licenses the facility, found some deficiencies at the home in March but none related to fire safety, agency spokeswoman Nanci Gonder said.

“This is a devastating situation and we express our sympathy to the families of those who were killed or injured in the fire,” Gonder said in a news release.

The facility also has a license from the Missouri Department of Mental Health that allowed mentally ill residents to live at the home and receive treatment elsewhere.

Mental Health spokesman Bob Bax said 17 of the facility’s residents were receiving services from the department through the Ozark Center in Joplin.

Anderson is a former railroad town of about 1,800 people nestled in the Ozarks. The town now has mostly small businesses and some manufacturing, though many residents commute roughly an hour south to jobs at Wal-Mart headquarters in northwest Arkansas or the businesses that have sprung up around the retailing giant.

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Video: Fire kills 10

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