March 27 (UPI) -- A four-alarm fire ravaged a St. Louis museum that housed one of the world's largest collections of historical and rare documents, authorities said Wednesday.
More than 80 firefighters answered the call for the fire late Tuesday at the Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum in downtown St. Louis. It holds one of the largest collections of original manuscripts, sparking panic that they could be lost forever.
Officials said most of the fire occurred in the back of the building and on the second floor and burned for about two hours. The manuscripts are kept on the first floor and many were salvaged, said museum director Kerry Manderbach. The documents are kept in protective cases and firefighters used care not to damage them while fighting the fire.
Included among the records are those from well-known California collector David Karpeles.
"I'm very nervous at the moment. I don't know what to say or think," he told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch from his home in Southern California.
Firefighters also tried to save artifacts like statues and a wooden ship model.
"They knew they were in a museum," Fire Chief Dennis Jenkerson said. "It's like, 'Don't leave empty-handed. Grab something and get it out of here.'"
Officials were still assessing the damage Wednesday and say the building could be a total loss.
Other historical items at the museum include the Gutenburg Bible, the Confederate Constitution, a map from the Spanish Armada, Babe Ruth's first baseball contract, the first draft of the Bill of Rights and Christopher Columbus' handwritten letter describing the coasts of America.
No injuries were reported due to the fire. The cause was not initially known.