Remembering the 1973 NPRC Fire Fact Sheet

July 12, 2023, marks 50 years since the disastrous 1973 fire at the Military Personnel Records Center in St. Louis that destroyed millions of military personnel records, changing the world of records storage and the work of the National Archives for decades to come

Where and when did the fire take place?

  • July 12, 2023, marks the 50th anniversary of the devastating fire at the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) in St. Louis, MO.
  • The NPRC opened in 1955. At the time, it was one of the largest records storage facilities in existence.
  • The fire was reported to officials just after midnight on July 12, 1973. Firefighters from over 40 fire districts battled the blaze. Fire officials finally declared the fire out on July 16.

What records were affected by the fire?

  • Files of former members of the Army, Army Air Force, and Air Force who served between 1912 and 1963. The Official Military Personnel File–known as an OMPF–is the documentation of a veteran’s military service from enlistment to separation. 

Why are these records so important?

  • These records provide comprehensive information about each veterans’ military service. They are used to prove eligibility for veterans’ benefits and are also of interest to genealogists.   

How many records were affected by the fire?

  • An estimated 16 to 18 million military personnel records were damaged or destroyed by fire or water.
  • Approximately 6.5 million OMPFs survived.
  • Records of Army personnel discharged November 1, 1912, to January 1, 1960, had a loss of 80%.
  • Records of Air Force Personnel discharged September 25, 1947, to January 1, 1964 (with names alphabetically after Hubbard) had a loss of 75%.

What happened to the records immediately after the fire?

  • The damaged records—wet, burnt, and mangled—were removed from the sixth floor by backhoe and by human chain. Staff worked in tents erected on the grounds to sort and rehouse recovered records. Officials faced a monumental task of drying nearly 90,000 cubic feet of wet records.

What does NARA currently do with the burnt records?

  • The NPRC receives between 4,000 to 5,000 requests each day, including requests for records damaged in the fire. These records are known as the B-files, and when requested, they go to the preservation unit, where they are treated and remaining information is extracted and shared with the requestor.

What policies changed after the fire? 

  • The world of records storage shifted in focus to:
    • designing storage that withstands the spread of fire,
    • detecting and extinguishing the earliest signs of smoke through sensors and sprinkler systems, and
    • keeping records in smaller storage areas to prevent massive fire spread and loss of records. 
  • More recently, a change came in the focus on technology, specifically digitization. Capturing digital images of these records has become an important part of our service to the veterans who are making requests. 

How do I find a record that was potentially affected by the fire?

  • There is no list of records that were lost, so it is not possible to know in advance if a record was destroyed or damaged by the fire. All requests for a DD Form 214 (Report of Separation) or OMPF begin at our online portal ( or by fax or mail. If the record was lost in the fire, you will receive a response letter that discusses the fire and provides documents obtained from alternate sources. If you require proof of service to apply for benefits, our staff will issue a document that may be used in lieu of a DD 214 for benefit applications.

How can I prove my relative served in the military if their record was lost in the fire?


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