Fort Madison, IA Propane Pipeline Explodes, Aug 1978


Fort Madison, Iowa (UPI) -- A propane gas pipeline explosion shot a ball of fire 500 feet into the air and turned a cornfield into an inferno, killing an elderly couple and injuring four other people, three critically, authorities said Friday.
The bodies of ROBERT KNIGHT, 79, and his wife CLARICE, 82, were found in the smouldering rubble that had once been their house. The KNIGHT home was located 500 feet from the scene of the Thursday night explosion.
Flames from the blazing pipeline and the KNIGHT house spread to two neighboring houses, injuring four persons.
Three members of a family across the road from the KNIGHT'S were in critical condition at University Hospital at Iowa City. They were ROBERT RIDER, 54; his wife MARY JANE, 49; and their daughter CINDY, 23.
MRS. KNIGHT'S son, VERNET BURGDORF, who lived next door to the KNIGHT residence, was treated for shock at a Fort Madison hospital and released.
The midnight explosion shook a half-mile area and thrust a blazing ball of flame high into the sky, illuminating the cornfields in an eerie orange glow visible for 70 miles.
"It looked like the sun was coming up," Lee County Deputy Sheriff Bob Chesnut said.
The blast left a crater 20 feet wide and 40 feet long and could be felt a half mile away, Chesnut said. The explosion shattered windows and grassfires sprang up in the farm ditch that carried off the leaking gas.
"It used to be a muddy, muddy ditch -- now it's dry as a bone," Chesnut said.
Volunteer firemen from several communities responded to the emergency call about midnight and battled fires at two nearby houses until 3 a.m.
Authorities said the flames had ebbed "almost to nothing" when gas was turned off at about 3 a.m.
The pipeline is owned by Mid-America Pipeline Co.
The National Transportation Safety Board sent two investigators to the site to determine the cause of the mishap.

Galveston Daily News Texas 1978-08-05