Dumas, TX Oil Tank Farm Explosion, July 1956
19 DIE, 31 INJURED IN OIL TANK FARM EXPLOSION, FIRE.
Dumas (AP) -- A petroleum tank farm explosion and fire killed 19 men yesterday and subsided today to a single fire in one tank. Apparently there was no further danger.
Fifteen men burned to death almost instantly when a hot wall of fire shot across the ground when the first of four tanks exploded and burned. Four others died later of horrible burns.
Funerals were held today for at least seven of the victims -- in Dumas and nearby Sunray. Services were planned later in half a dozen Texas cities for the other victims.
Some 31 other persons were burned by the blast that shot an orange fireball thousands of feet and seared everything within a quarter-mile radius. Only seven of the 31 remained on the serious list today. Three were discharged from the hospital.
Spectators saw friends and relatives stumble moaning and crying, their clothing afire, from the smoke and flames at the Shamrock Oil & Gas Corp. tank farm. Ensuing explosions burned and shattered three other big storage tanks and blackened others nearby.
"The fiery blast snuffed out their lives and they crumpled in their tracks," Editor BILL LASK of the Moore County News said.
BOB HAMILTON, a News reporter, said his hair almost caught fire 200 yards from the explosion. A shirtless boy stumbled out with his naked back in flames. He said the dead were caught in a "pool of fire."
Some of the burning bodies set fire to blankets used to wrap them. Others exploded from internal steam pressure. A railroad bridge burned a quarter mile away.
BOB BOWER, Shamrock public relations official, said the men were fighting a small ground fire when the 20,000 barrel tank containing pentane, a butane-like fuel, caught fire. Firemen were were attempting to cool other tanks were caught in the first explosion at 6:53 a.m. Greater loss of life was averted because many of the men had backed away from the tank because of the intense heat.
The other tanks, ranging from 10,000 to 20,000 barrels in capacity, quickly caught fire from the initial blast. They contained crude oil or its by products.
The injured were taken to the 40-bed Moore County Memorial Hospital in this Texas Panhandle of 8,000.
Nine of the dead were Shamrock employes and the others volunteer firemen from nearby towns.
Flames from the burning tanks were shooting at midnight as high as they were at noon. But winds that earlier had blown the flames away from the farm of 50 to 75 tanks subsided and fear that the other tanks would ignite subsided. The fire was expected to burn itself out.
A skeleton fire crew stood by but a Shamrock official, S. G. WAIT, said there wasn't "a thing any fireman could do to prevent the entire tank farm from going up" if the fire spread.
DR. JAMES L. JOHNSON of Amarillo, who was flying his light plane near Dumas when the tank exploded, saw the first fireball. He landed at Dumas and rushed to the hospital.
"I was watching the fire, which was about 20 miles away," he said. "It was followed by a big mushroom of smoke -- just like the kind in the atomic bomb pictures."
The fireball was also sighted at Amarillo, 40 miles to the south.
The Shamrock plant is located eight miles northeast of Dumas.
BOWER estimated the damage at half a million dollars.
LOWELL BERRY, maintenance foreman, said the plant would be back in operation within eight hours after the fire burned out.
HAMILTON said the heat from the blast was unbearable at 200 yards away. He added.
"A whirring sound was heard for about two minutes and then it hit. The resulting inferno looked like tons of TNT going off. Orange flames turned to black."
"As I started to cross the highway an unidentified man ran by me with smoke billowing from his hair. Instinctively, I reached to feel my own hair and it was hot."
The dead who were Shamrock employes:
ALVIN FREEMAN; GAYLE WEIR; RUPERT WEIR; VIRGIL THOMAS; JAMES RIVERS; CHARLES LUMMUS; JOE WEST; and ALLEN W. CLEVELAND.
Volunteer firemen who were killed:
DON THOMPSON; CLAUDE EMMETT; SAM GIBSON, JR.; LEWIS BROXSON; MERYL W. SLABLE; PASCHAL POOL; BILLY JOE DUNN; GILFORD CORSE; ALBERT MILLIGAN; RAY BILES; and D. C. LILLY.
Big Spring Daily Herald Texas 1956-07-30
Researched and Transcribed by Stu Beitler. Thank you, Stu!