ISHPEMING TOWNSHIP, Mich. -- Fire broke out early yesterday at a 122-bed nursing home in northern Michigan, killing two people and sending at least 70 others to hospitals, authorities said.
Residents were evacuated as the outside temperature fell to about 14 degrees.
The fire was reported about 12:15 a.m. at Mather Nursing Center in Ishpeming Township, several miles west of Marquette on Michigan's Upper Peninsula and about 360 miles north of Detroit.
''The north side of the building was black with rolling smoke," said Richard Harvala, assistant chief of the township's volunteer fire department.
Two of the 21 people taken to Bell Memorial Hospital in the neighboring city of Ishpeming died of smoke inhalation, spokesman Rich Rossway said.
The fire severely damaged two rooms in the T-shaped, one-story nursing home's back wing, but flames appeared to have spared the front, where Christmas decorations filled the windows.
Sergeant Brian Graustein of the State Police said that it was too early in the investigation to determine the cause.
Harvala said the township's 36-member volunteer fire department called in help from two nearby communities. Residents helped evacuate the nursing home's elderly and seriously ill patients, most of them bed-ridden or requiring wheelchairs.
A smoke alarm was still sounding in the building more than nine hours after the fire was reported. Fireproof doors closed as soon as the alarm went off, keeping flames from spreading, and most of the residents had already been evacuated when firefighters arrived, Harvala said. Uninjured residents were sheltered at Ishpeming Township Hall, nearby Westwood High School, and a facility in Marquette, authorities said.
Seventeen sat on mattresses and in wheelchairs in the gym and cafeteria at Westwood High.
''They're very confused and frightened," said Paula Susmark, executive director of the Central Upper Peninsula chapter of the American Red Cross.