Wellsville, NY Oil Refinery Explosion, July 1938




Wellsville, N.Y., July 18 -- (AP) -- A spectacular explosion early today spread new havoc in the $15,000,000 Sinclair Oil company refinery, after three men were killed and 75 injured in a chaos of fire and explosions last night, but firemen finally appeared to be bringing the fire under control. Barrels of naphtha exploded shortly before daybreak with a deafening roar and a cloud-sweeping flash of fire. No one was reported injured, but a similar tank, exploding last night, skyrocketed clear across the nearby Genesee River and killed three spectators on the opposite bank.
Chief Hollin Johnston of the company's fire department said damage, including business as well as stock and equipment, would amount to about $5,000,000.
Emergency calls for oil fire fighting chemicals were broadcast through Western New York and Pennsylvania after the new explosion today. Soon afterward, a 50,000-barrel tank of highly inflammable naphtha caught fire, but a crew of 100 tired firemen took their lives in their hands and approached close enough to snuff out the fire with chemicals.
A new danger developed when fire, blazing up anew in the ruins of the dewaxing plant and power house, flared to within a scant five feet of the naphtha plant, filled with high explosive chemicals.
Another band of fire fighters built a dike of sandbags against flames and burning oil.
In the meantime, anxious firemen stood guard over approximately 300 storage tanks of various sizes, containing various fluids, which stand on the refinery property. Many of these were on fire at some time last night.
Thirteen tanks exploded last night while the fire was racing through the heart of the $15,000,000 refinery of the Sinclair Oil Company, one of the largest refineries in the country.
The dead, all spectators, were:
WALTER MAEDER, 45, umemployed.
ROBERT POWERS, 35, a restaurant worker.
All were Wellsville residents.
Sixty-five persons were treated for minor burns in an emergency hospital set up by doctors and nurses at the pant.
The tank which killed the three men had a 2,500 barrel capacity.
Firemen said it began to bulge, then suddenly a sheet of flame 200 feet high and 600 feet wide roared skyward.
One fireman, Ed Pickens, said the big tank "went up just like a little tin can set over a firecracker."
The huge bulk cleared the top of a building 70 feet high, crossed the river and landed 500 feet away. The crowd of spectators saw it coming. Men and women ran in terror.
W. D. Chenault, plant manager, said the cause of the fire "will probably never be determined," but added, he thought "a faulty electric connection might have started it."
At one time it was estimated that 600 men were fighting the fire.

North Adams Transcript Massachusetts 1938-07-18