Pinole, CA Powder Explosion, Feb 1953

Explosion Rips Plant, Kills 12; FBI to Probe

RICHMOND, Calif. (AP) - A flicker of flame and a wisp of smoke spurted from an explosive-mixing "dope house" at the Hercules Powder Company in nearby Pinole yesterday.

As workers rushed to fight the fire, an explosion reduced the brick building to rubble.

Twelve men were torn to bits. Bodies and parts of bodies were hurled as far as 250 feet.

The explosion threw bricks from the building 700 feet. It shook four counties. It even got a reaction on the University of California seismograph at Berkeley, 12 miles to the south. San Francisco, 20 airline miles away, was jolted.

Considered Safe

An employe who declined to give his name said the "dope houses" were considered relatively safe from explosion. He said three had burned in the past four years without exploding.

Only two men were in the 25 by 50 foot brick building which was used for mixing "dope" - liquid ingredients of dynamite. They presumably touched off the plant fire whistle which brought workers running. Then came the blast which "almost knocked our heads off," said workers farthest from the scene.

Those closer to the explosion didn't live.

Eugene D. Hatfield, Hercules employment supervisor, said:

"We probably will never know the cause of the blast."

FBI Investigating

The FBI is investigating the possibility of sabotage.

Two construction workers, who were moving dirt only 150 feet from the explosion, escaped injury.

John Mountjoy saw a small flame at the building, then "a little explosion, like a tank og fas going off."

He and three other men leaped into the scoop of a bulldozer Mountjoy was operating. Seconds later the big blast came.

Plant Manager Clifford T. Butler estimated damage at $50,000.

The Hercules plant has been hit by other explosions. Last March one man was killed in an explosion in a press house on the black powder line. Damage was $25,000. Two others died when the nitroglycerine building blew up in June, 1948. A similar blast in 1944 also killed two men.

The Abilene Reporter News, Abilene, TX 13 Feb 1953
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8 Killed, 4 Injured In Powder Blast

RICHMOND, Calif., Feb. 12 (AP) - Fire caused a thundering explosion at the Hercules Powder Plant at nearby Pinole today and Police Chief Hugh Young said eight men were killed, two were missing and four were injured.

Later a company spokesman said "eight or nine employees were killed and about six injured."

The blast broke windows in a wide area and was felt and seen in San Francisco, more than 20 miles away.

"A big, white cloud shot high into the sky," said Policeman John Daly, who was on duty in San Francisco's Hall of Justice.

Company headquarters in San Francisco issued a brief preliminary statement which said:

"At approximately 1 p.m., a fire developed in one of the operating buildings, resulting in an explosion.

"Damages amounted to approximately $50,000, confined to the immediate area.

"There were some fatalities and injuries resulting. It is too early to furnish details."

At the scene, Chief Young said the blast was preceded by a fire whistle which began blowing about eight minutes before the blast.

The whistle customarily is used to warn workers to flee from the area.

The Abilene Reporter News, Abilene, TX 13 Feb 1953