Berlin, NY Propane Gas Explosion, July 1962


Berlin, N.Y. (AP) -- At 5:30 p.m. in the picturesque hamlet of Berlin in eastern New York, dinner was on the stove, the men were returning from work, and GENE MERRILLS was standing beside a barn.
"God, it was like a clap of thunder. A bomb. Everything lit up red," MERRILLS said.
A load of propane gas on a tractor-trailer exploded Wednesday, spurting the flaming liquid as far as a half-mile within this community of 490. The truck driver was injured fatally and 16 men, women and children were hospitalized. Ten of them remained in critical condition today.
A dozen homes and the 179-year-old Baptist church were in ruins.
Thunderheads were gathering in the sky as ROBERT J. McLUCAS, 39, of Pomeroy, Pa., took his big truck down the twisting two-mile hill leading into this community folded into a valley between the Grafton Mountains and the Berkshires near the intersection of the New York-Massachusetts-Vermont state lines. At some point, the brakes apparently failed, State Police said, and McLUCAS leaned on his horn in warning as the vehicle picked up speed. Some witnesses said the brakes appeared to be on fire.
About 50 yards from the village square with its Civil War statue, the truck reached a turn near the bottom of the hill. It jackknifed, the trailer broke off.
"There was a pause, then a pop, than a blam. The flames must have gone 150 to 200 feet in the air bright orange." That was the account of HOLDEN GUTERMUTH, 24, who witnessed it from a field.
McLUCAS was blown 350 feet. He died about two hours later.
Postmaster ROBERT MOSES was closing up for the day. He looked at the house he had built himself. "It was terrible. It was a mass of fire." His wife was inside.
Held back by the searing heat, MOSES watched as his wife crawled into the breezeway, then through the garage, over the car and through a window.
She was critically burned.
Three home were enveloped immediately in flames and hunks of fire soared off off to strike in a cray-quilt pattern among the few dozen white clapboard homes in Berling and the church. A barn a half-mile away housing two school buses was ignited.
A man painting his house a quarter-mile away was blown from his ladder.
The immediate blast occurred in front of the home of KENNETH McCUMBER, 53, and his wife, FLORENCE, 55. The house disintegrated.
"You could see the clapboards come right off the place, said CLIFTON SHUHART, who found the McCUMBERS crawling in a field about 400 feet away. They, too, were burned critically.
Next on the hill was the BRAZIE home. Inside were JOHN BRAZIE, 23, his wife, MARY, 18, and their son, JOHN HR., 18 months.
"I saw a woman and baby run out of a house. They were all afire. It was horrible," said MISS LEONA GAYLE JONES, 23, who was driving home from her state job in nearby Albany.
The BRAZIES were in critical condition.
Fire Chief FRANK JONES responded to the alarm and found his own home burning. What he could not find was his wife.
"He's in terrible shape," the Rensselaer County fire coordinator told a newsman at the scene. "He couldn't find his wife. He's just in a daze."
But MRS. JONES was found uninjured at a neighbor's home.
Sixteen fire departments from communities in the county and from Massacuhusetts fought the flames. At least 11 ambulances, 21 state troopers, and 9 sheriff's deputies responded.
Eight of the injured were in Putnam Memorial Hospital, Bennington, Vt., six were in Samaritan Hospital, Troy, N. Y., and two others were discharged after treatment in Troy.
Those at Bennington were:
JOSEPH E. SAURDIFFE, 53, Bennington, Vt., critical.
MRS. DORIS SAURDIFFE, 32, his wife, critical.
MRS. ROSALEE LOKER, 80, Bennington, MRS. SAURDIFFE'S mother, critical.
VICTORIA LOKER, 35, Berlin, MRS. SAURDIFFE'S sister, critical.
FRANK MARCO, 73, Berlin, fair.
MRS. ETHEL FEATHERS, 63, Berlin, fair.
JOHN FEATHERS, 66, Berlin, her husband, fair.
DONNA GENE WAGER, 15, Berlin, fair.

Nashua Telegraph New Hampshire 1962-07-26


My relatives injured in the

My relatives injured in the fire were the Sourdiffes, who's names are misspelled here, and the Lockers, who eventually died from their injuries.

gas truck explosion in Berlin new york 1962

Over the years I have tried to explain to my husband how bad this fire was. I know he didn't think I could remember that far back as I was out in my mind is my father took us there I don't remember how many days after it happened. But what I do remember is he my father kicked a tree stump that was Being a young child that is something I think would stay on anyone's mind. Not every detail. I know it had to have been quite a few days Now my husband understands a little better how bad the explosion was.

Berlin Fire

My wife was a teenager at the time and lived during the school weeks with her Aunt and Uncle Addie and Ed Cahill. The fire burned the houses and the church across the street, but didn't burn their house. They were right at the bottom of the Plank Road where it meets Main Street. Most of the damage from 52+ years ago is long gone, but there is a monument in the Center Berlin cemetery for the victims.


Wish I new about this site I would have liked to see your scrapbook. I was born on this day at the hospital where they brought some of the victims. My mom has talked about this many times with me through the years.

Berlin Fire 1962

I was born that day and my mom would talk about the explosion in Berlin often she said they came in to her room at Samaritan to get extra blankets for the burn victims' Very sad.

Gas Explosion in Berlin,Ny

I still have a Glens Falls Post Star newspaper clipping on this subject.I was stationed at Cherry Point,N.C. while serving in the Marine Corp.Was twenty years old.
Mother sent the clipping to me.
My mother was from Berlin and my Father was from Petersburg ,NY.
Gene Goodermote was my uncle by marriage.He and his wife Sarah lived on Berlin mountain.Sarah was a Crandall before marriage . So I have relation in this area.
That's why my interest in this event.
I looked this up on the internet to see what year it took place.
Thanks for the personal accounts.what a horrible accident.

"The truck driver was

"The truck driver was injured fatally and 16 men, women and children were hospitalized. Ten of them remained in critical condition today."

9 people died from there injuries in the days and weeks that followed.

Mable Wager
Gene Sourdiffe, 52, and his wife, Doris
Mary Jean Brazie
Ken McCumber, and his wife, Florence
Dorothy Moses
Victoria Loker
Rosalie Loker

iam 49 yrs old i wasnt born

iam 49 yrs old i wasnt born until oct of the same yr of the berlin fire but have heard many many stories as Doris Saurdiffe was my dads aunt which is why iam very confused to see that one report states that Doris's mom was named as Rosalee Loker I have never heard mention the name and know that her moms name was Nina Wilder Bourn my great grandmother it also stated that Doris had a sister Victoria again I have never heard mention of the name if anyone can clear this up for me i would greatly appreciate it thanks for all the articals

Berlin propane explosion

I am looking to talk to Linda Lindenberg, who was just a child 50 years ago when the tanker explosion leveled part of Berlin. I am a reporter for the Times Union in Albany and I'm doing an anniversary story about the tragedy.
Bob Gardinier
518 469-5394

Berlin, NY propane gas fire of 1962

Hi, Stu Beitler, I don't know where you live but if you are in the Berlin, New York, area this July, I am presenting a scrap book of 50 pages on the propane fire of 1962. My father was the town superviser and a fireman at the time. His name is W. Robert Bentley and I am Randi, his daughter.