Santa Cruz, CA Powder Mills Explosion, Apr 1898

Powder Mills Blown Up

At Least Six Men Killed and Four Injured by an Explosion Near Santa Cruz, Cal.

Spanish Treachery Charged

The Plant Sent a Trainload of Smokeless Powder East Recently, and the Government Work Is Not Interrupted.

Santa Cruz, Cal., April 26.-Three explosions about 5:15 this afternoon at the California Powder Works caused a greater loss of life than any previous accidents in the history of these works. The wildest rumors are prevalent regarding the number of killed and injured, the exact number of which cannot be ascertained before morning. It is known that seven were killed and four seriously injured, as follows:

Killed-EDWARD KILLDERAN, brick mason; J. MILLER, foreman of one of the mills; C.A. COLE, carpenter of the works; E. JENNINGS; two boys named MARSHALL.

Injured- J. Nelson, William Burg, J. Hannah, H. Hunsen.

The first heavy shock from the explosion was felt for many miles around, and was separately followed by two lighter shocks. The smoke from the works arose in such dense volumes that it will be impossible for a time to perceive the extent of the damage that had been caused by the explosion. It was said that the fire was spreading and the main magazine was in imminent danger. The bugle call was accordingly sounded for members of the California Naval Reserve, who responded promptly, hurrying to the mills and assisting the corps of fire fighter already on the grounds.

As nearly as can be learned the primary cause of the disaster was the explosion of the cotton plant. The igniting of this plant caused the fire to spread to the adjoining brush and small building, and was them communicated to the powder mill flat, where are located the houses of the employees of the works. The employees and Naval Reserve boys worked heroically to prevent the fire from spreading to the smokeless powder plant.

The scarcity of water in the creek retarded the work of the volunteer fire brigade. Shovels and other tools were used instead of water fighting the flames.

Possibly Due to Treachery.

The cause of the explosion is not yet known, but one of the wounded men expressed it as his belief that the works were set on fire. A suspicious character was seen lurking around the mills this afternoon. A belief is prevalent that he is an emissary of Spain, or a zealous Spaniard, a number of whom are residents of this section.

Little doubt is entertained among the officials of the works, however, that the explosion was due to an accident. Extraordinary precautions had been taken to prevent treachery, and few entertain the opinion that the accident was the work of a Spanish spy, as was at first suggested. It is not thought the explosion will interfere with the manufacture of smokeless powder for the Government. The fire is now under control and immediate danger is passed. None of the plants for making powder for the fulfillment of Government contracts are injured. In addition to the guncotton plant, most of the cottages occupied by the employees were burned, this comprising the property loss, a financial estimate of which cannot be made to-night.

The Santa Cruz Powder Works are the largest in this country next to the bug DuPont factories, and the largest by far for the manufacture of the brown prismatic powder for coast defense guns and the smokeless for the guns on the warships. Since the war scare began such heavy orders have been received from the Government for both their powders that the works have been more that crowded. The works were established in 1861 on the present site, about two miles to the north of Santa Cruz, on the line of the Southern Pacific Coast Railroad. They comprise twenty-one powder mills, three shops, six magazines and stores, and thirty-five other buildings, situated upon the banks of the San Lorenzo, and stretching along the river for a mile.

New York Times, New York, NY 27 Apr 1898