Blaze tears through St. Louis museum of rare documents
Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum St. Louis Reuters

A massive fire broke out in a museum of rare manuscripts in St. Louis, provoking fears over the fate of its priceless documents, officials and media said on Wednesday, although the extent of the losses was not immediately clear.

About 80 firefighters worked for two hours to douse Tuesday’s blaze at the Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum, the fire department said on social network Twitter.

No injuries were reported, although media said the second floor of the 100-year-old, 3-story brick building collapsed during the fire, the cause of which is being investigated.

As the four-alarm fire burned, firefighters scrambled to haul out boxes, statues and other artifacts, the St. Louis Dispatch newspaper said.

“They knew it was a museum,” it quoted Fire Chief Dennis Jenkerson as saying. “It’s like, ‘Don’t leave empty-handed. Grab something and get it out of here.’”

It was unclear early on Wednesday what was in the museum, billed as home to some of the world’s largest private collections of original manuscripts, since its holdings rotate among a dozen museums across the United States.

But in the past it has displayed an original Gutenberg Bible, one of the world’s most valuable books, a first draft of the U.S. Bill of Rights, and a handwritten letter from Columbus describing the coasts of America, the St Louis Dispatch added.

On its Facebook page, the museum was promoting a display of Russian documents from 1711 through 1963.

A fire department spokesman was not immediately available to comment to Reuters, and a fire dispatcher said there was no immediate information on how much of the collection was saved.

Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Clarence Fernandez