Monday, January 7, 2013

Butte Explosion

Butte has had its share of mining disasters and mourned its share of fallen heroes. But no disaster precipitated more fire protection improvements than an explosion that occurred on January 15, 1895. Butte firemen answered a fire call in the South Butte warehouse of the Royal Milling Company. The firemen did not know that tons of blasting powder had been illegally stored in the nearby Kenyon-Connell Commercial Company and Butte Hardware Company warehouses. Flames reached the powder, and the first terrific explosion blew the metal roof of the Kenyon-Connell building one hundred feet in the air, hurling bystanders and nearly the entire Butte fire department to their deaths.

A page from Souvenir History of the Butte Fire Department
As passersby rushed to aid victims, two more blasts turned iron bars and metal pipes stored in the warehouse into deadly missiles that found targets as distant as a mile from the explosions. Searing oil rained down on the crowd. Sidewalks throughout Butte all the way to Walkerville glistened with broken glass from shattered windows. Authorities counted at least fifty-nine dead and more than one hundred injured, but Butte’s transient population and the complete annihilation of some victims suggested the toll was much higher. Only the Speculator Mine disaster in 1917 eclipsed this horrendous calamity.

Update: Richard Gibson tells the stories of two firefighters who survived the explosion on his blog, Butte History.

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