Brownfield, TX Gas Truck Explosion, Dec 1958



Brownfield, Tex. (UPI) -- A butane gas transport truck blew up Monday night in the midst of 500 persons standing as close to it as 10 feet. Spectators said flames shot 1,000 feet into the air and the blast blew chunks of red hot metal two miles.
The explosion killed four persons and injured 168. Most of the injured were treated for burns and sent home, but at least 63 remained in hospitals, some in critical condition.
The tragedy started with a wreck between the butane transport and a trailer truck. There was a small explosion, probably of gasoline, when the trucks collided, and a fire.
The Brownfield volunteer fire department rushed to the scene and spectators gathered. Fifteen minutes after the wreck and original explosion, the powerful butane gas on the truck blew up.
"About 20 of us firemen were on the south side of it, all within 20 feet," volunteer fireman Phillip Thompson said.
"Suddenly there was an awful roar and it seemed like the whole sky was on fire. I was knocked down. Then I was up and running. I don't know where, just running."
"A boy passed me running hard. His clothes were on fire. I jerked some of his clothes off and put out the fire."
Thompson was wearing a heavy fireman's coat and trousers over his regular clothing. His clothing
inside the firemen's coat and trousers got
"scorching hot," but he escaped with minor burns.
The victims were:
Volunteer fire marshal JIM COUSINEAU, 45, who earned his living as an electrical engineer.
RUBEN JOHNSON, about 50, Lubbock, the driver of the butane transport.
WAYLAND PARKER, about 45, a volunteer fireman.
J. B. RAY, a farmer.
In local hospitals in very critical condition are:
E. N. WILGUS, 53.
The injured overflowed the local hospital and ambulances and automobiles rushed them to hospitals in Lubbock, Levelland and LaMesa, about 40 miles away.
Residents of Lubbock, Muleshoe and Big Spring reported seeing the flash of the explosion. Big Spring is 80 miles from Brownfield.
The explosion knocked out Brownfield's power supply and there was no power for more than an hour. It blew out windows all over town. The glass in a filling station two blocks away simply disappeared.
Butane is a gas, widely used for heating in rural areas, that liquifies under pressure. It is carried about as a liquid and stored in tannks on farms and ranches, but the moment it touches air, it becomes a gas.

Yuma Daily Sun Arizona 1958-12-23


I was there

I was only 5 years old when this event occurred. I simply do not believe the 15 minute time lapse between the accident and the explosion is accurate. My family saw in the sky in the southwest part of town the glow of the fire emanating from the wreck as we returned home from the movie theater. After arriving home, my Mom and I took the lady who had babysat my younger sister back to her home. Out of curiosity, my Mom then drove toward the glow until we arrived at the location of the wreck a couple of miles away, got out of the car and talked to some friends who were parked nearby, and then returned to the car and drove off. I could see the truck turned over on its top in the midst of the fire. We had only gone about 150 yards when the truck exploded. I watched the metal fly into the air from the rear window of our car and saw all the bystanders run for their lives as we sped past. It had to have been 25 to 30 minutes from the time we left the movie theater to the time of the explosion. A horrific event that has been burned into my memory for over 56 years.

Brownfield Butane Explosion 1958

My father mentioned that Sheriff Jim Fulford was burnt badly and received heavy facial surgery. Upon delivering a WU telegram to the sheriff Dad didn't recognize him. Dad adds that the heavy crowd assembled from a VFW dance across from the wreck.