Man stayed by wife’s side in Missouri house fire; both died

Nov 11, 2022, 12:33 PM | Updated: 1:11 pm

NEW MELLE, Mo. (AP) — An elderly Missouri couple died in a fire when a man refused to leave his wife as their home burned and the floor that was their escape route collapsed, fire officials said.

Kenneth and Phyllis Zerr, both 84, died in the fire Thursday at their home in New Melle, Missouri, about 37 miles (59.55 kilometers) west of St. Louis.

“It’s a tragedy, kind of a tragic love story,” New Melle Fire Chief Dan Casey said. “He could have definitely gotten out. The family knows he could have gotten out, but he was going to stay with her.”

Kenneth Zerr called emergency dispatchers to report the fire, opened a door for firefighters to enter and then went back to his wife, who used a wheelchair and had fallen on the floor of the bathroom in their master bedroom. He stuffed towels under the door in a futile attempt to keep out the smoke, Casey said.

Kenneth Zerr was not able to get his wife up and eventually the bedroom floor collapsed, trapping them in the bathroom, Casey said.

Firefighters made it through thick smoke to the bedroom but had to retreat when the floor began collapsing as they searched for the couple, the chief said.

“The dispatch was on the phone with my father and my father was trying to help my mother out of the house and they got trapped,” their son, Andy Zerr, told KSDK-TV. “The dispatch told my father to come out of the house and my father said ‘I’m not leaving my wife,’ and stayed with her until the end.”

The couple celebrated 63 years of marriage in September. Firefighters said they died of smoke inhalation.

The cause of of the fire is under investigation but officials believe it was accidental and started near an appliance in the basement, Casey said.

Some firefighters suffered minor burns in the blaze.

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Man stayed by wife’s side in Missouri house fire; both died