Deadly disaster: Firefighters, onlookers perish in 1895 explosion

2012-08-13T00:00:00Z Deadly disaster: Firefighters, onlookers perish in 1895 explosionBy John Grant Emeigh of The Montana Standard Montana Standard

A policeman sounded alarm box 72 at Utah and Iron streets about

9:55 p.m. when he noticed smoke coming from a warehouse near Arizona Street.

Men from the Butte Fire Department — located in Butte’s old City Hall on Broadway — quickly loaded up the horse-drawn ladder wagon and rushed to the scene.

Less than 12 minutes later most of these men would be blown to pieces.

One hundred and

seventeen years after the giant blasts shook the Mining City, the Kenyon-Connell Warehouse

explosion remains the deadliest disaster for the Butte Fire Department. The 13 firefighters who died on that frosty evening of Jan. 15, 1895, will be honored as part of the International Association of Fire Fighters Motorcycle Group rally, which runs Monday through Thursday in Butte.

Rick Ryan, Butte battalion chief, said one reason the national organization chose to have its annual rally in Butte is to show respect for the firefighters lost on that tragic evening.

“Nearly the entire fire department was wiped out in that explosion,” Ryan said.

The 1895 blast killed

57 people, including seven full-time firefighters and six part-time firefighters. The dead also included people of all ages and nationalities. The youngest victim was

12-year-old F.G. Frazier. A 15-year-old William Smith from New York killed in the blast was described in publications at the time as “colored.”

The first firefighters

to arrive at the scene immediately attacked the dynamite-fueled fire, which was burning inside the warehouse. Assistant Chief Jack Flannery said the building’s metal siding glowed red-hot from the extreme heat.

Flannery’s job was to attach the fire hose to the plug several yards from the burning warehouse. This would ultimately save his life. While he worked on the plug, his fellow firefighters ran into the teeth of death.

The first explosion was reported at the Kenyon-Connell warehouse about 10:08 p.m. As people rushed in to look for

survivors, a second explosion occurred at the nearby Butte Hardware Co. warehouse.

Flannery described the gruesome scene as he sifted through the twisted metal and burning debris to find his comrades

“Human bodies lay piled two deep; some writhing and moaning in their dying agonies, but the great number were silent forever,” he wrote.

Butte’s current battalion chief John Paull has researched the deadly blast over the past few years. As a longtime firefighter, Paull said he’s always had a connection to this disaster.

“I just couldn’t believe what happened to those guys,” he told The Montana Standard. “They went out that night thinking they were just going to put out a stove fire.”

These men could never have expected such an incredible explosion. Paull said there were reports at the time that the blast was heard from as far away as Willow Creek and Three Forks. Debris was found more than four miles from the blast scene.

Several spectators were killed or wounded by bits of flaming debris that shot from the blast site.

Paull noted that the warehouses stored hundreds of 6-inch by 4-inch iron blocks that were used as skimming tools in the smelter. In the giant blast, these “rabble heads” became deadly rockets.

“These were like pieces of shrapnel flying everywhere,” Paull said.

One of these rabble heads was found imbedded in the roof of the Silver Bow Club building on Granite Street, more than a mile from the warehouse.

Investigators determined the warehouse owners were negligent for the disaster, because they stored more dynamite in the warehouses than was allowed by law. The limit was 100 pounds.

Paull said officials suspect there may have been as many as two railroad cars loaded with the explosives in the warehouses that night.

— Reporter John Grant Emeigh may be reached via email at john.emeigh@lee.net or phone at 496-5511. Follow him at Twitter.com/@johnemeigh.

Copyright 2015 Montana Standard. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(2) Comments

  1. ButteRose
    Report Abuse
    ButteRose - August 13, 2012 1:30 pm
    I am glad that they men who died will not be forgotten. Firefighters have very dangerous jobs--they never know when the bell rings what they will encounter, nor how they will deal with it.
  2. uptown
    Report Abuse
    uptown - August 13, 2012 8:14 am
    Nice story. A small clarification, the Silver Bow Club referred to is not the one at Granite and Alaska today (it was built in 1906), but the previous one that was at Granite and Hamilton Streets (burned down in 1978; parking lot today).

Civil Dialogue

We provide this community forum for readers to exchange ideas and opinions on the news of the day. Passionate views, pointed criticism and critical thinking are welcome. Name-calling, crude language and personal abuse are not welcome. Moderators will monitor comments with an eye toward maintaining a high level of civility in this forum. Our comment policy explains the rules of the road for registered commenters. If you receive an error after submitting a comment, please contact us at editor@mtstandard.com.

If your comment was removed or isn't appearing online, perhaps:

  1. You called someone an idiot, a racist, a dope, a moron, etc. Please, no name-calling or profanity (or veiled profanity -- #$%^&*).
  2. You rambled, failed to stay on topic or exhibited troll-like behavior intended to hijack the discussion at hand.
  3. YOU SHOUTED YOUR COMMENT IN ALL CAPS. This is hard to read and annoys readers.
  4. You have issues with a business. Have a bad meal? Feel you were overcharged at the store? New car is a lemon? Contact the business directly with your customer service concerns.
  5. You included an e-mail address or phone number, pretended to be someone you aren't or offered a comment that makes no sense.
  6. You accused someone of a crime or assigned guilt or punishment to someone suspected of a crime.
  7. Your comment is in really poor taste.
Add Comment
You must Login to comment.

Click here to get an account it's free and quick

mothersdaypromo-tile

Follow the Montana Standard

Montana Videos

The 4:06 – trending topics and hot headlines

Missoulian digital director Emily Foster presents the latest news you need to know about today's headlines …

Video: Gorilla attack at Omaha zoo

Video: Gorilla attack at Omaha zoo

A video showing a silverback gorilla cracking a glass window at Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo and…

The 4:06 – trending topics and hot headlines

The 4:06 – trending topics and hot headlines

Missoulian digital director Emily Foster presents the latest news you need to know about tod…

Ground squirrels, not gophers

Ground squirrels, not gophers

Jeff the Nature Guy finds some Richardson's ground squirrels, which are cute but pesky rodents.

Great Butte Businesses

Vote now! Question of the Week

Loading…

Do you think the Butte school district and Butte-Silver Bow Council of Commissioners should live stream their meetings?

View Results