On Jan. 10, 1962, all the talk was about bitter cold. At 3 p.m., with the temperature only 4 degrees, Carson Crocker was cutting a customer's hair at 702 Chouteau Avenue. Police officer Kenneth Jones tried to stay warm in his patrol car one block away. Major Nesbit worked inside the Ralston Purina feed mill that towered over the neighborhood just south of downtown.
The quiet chill was shattered at 3:20 p.m., when a grain-dust explosion ripped through the Ralston mill, at Seventh and Gratiot streets. The blast blew open Crocker's front door, showered airborne debris around Jones' car and threw Nesbit across the room.
"I heard this 'whoom' and there was fire everywhere," Nesbit said. "I crawled until I could see and then I cut out of there."
It was the beginning of one of St. Louis' biggest fires, and one of the wildest nights ever for the St. Louis Fire Department. In temperatures that quickly froze their water sprays, firefighters fought two general-alarm fires and handled 44 other calls.