Louisville, KY Standard Oil Refinery Explosion, Jun 1890



LOUISVILLE, Ky., June 30. – Five acres of fire was the sight witnessed at the Standard Oil Refinery at Fifth and C Streets this morning. The immense structure was blazing at every point, and the heat was so intense that even 200 yards away persons were overcome. The following is a list of the casualties:

Andrew McDonald, aged twelve, badly burned about the breast and face, but will recover.
JOHN MCDONALD, aged fourteen, literally roasted alive; he died to-night,
DAN O’NEIL, aged twelve, burned almost to a crisp and died tonight.
John Kline, aged twenty-two, frightfully burned all over the body and cannot recover
Severen Skere, aged forty five, badly, though not fatally burned about the head and breast.
Arthur Yonkers, aged eighteen, slightly burned.

It was first reported that seven had lost their lives and later that three were killed and thirty-five wounded, but it is now believed that the above will cover the casualties. The fire broke out at 8:45 o’clock and was in many respects a remarkable one. The refinery is on the east side of the Louisville and Nashville track, but the tanks are scattered along it on both sides. On last Saturday a tank of crude oil came in on a flatcar from Cleveland, and it was to be turned into the refinery vats. Some of the workmen thought the iron tank was too hot for such a thing to be done with safety. After consultation it was postponed in the hope that the weather to-day would be cooler. It did not prove to be however, and it became necessary to run the oil out of the car tank into another one in the yard. Inspector Severen Skene took John Pettigo and another workman whose name could not be learned, with him, and they climbed on the car. They mounted the manhead and were about to unscrew the cap, whey they felt that there was a tremendous pressure from the inside. At first they decided not to open it, but finally they changed their minds and did so.

In an instant there was a dull puff and the vapors escaped, filling the air all around. The gas, as is known, is heavier than the air, and it sank to the ground, spreading out all over the locality, and moving with the wind. Almost in a twinkling it reached one of the sheds under which was a fire. There was a flash as the inflammable vapor ignited, and immediately after there was a tremendous explosion. The tank was blown to pieces, and the hundreds of gallons of burning oil were scattered all over the great works. A wall of fire 300 feet high and nearly 900 feet long moved with lightning rapidity to the buildings. In less time than it takes to relate it the canning house, filled with thousands of gallons of canned oil, the cooper shop, carpenter shop, pump and engine houses, the filling and lubricating houses, the storage houses, the paint and glue houses, and 900 feet of the platform were all burning furiously.