Hawks Prairie, WA Powder Plant Explosion, June 1934

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Olympia, June 28. -- (AP) -- The question of sabotage as the cause of the powder plant explosions that sent 10 persons to their deaths was raised here today by C. F. Ramsey, Portland, sales manager in this territory for the Denn Powder Company, owner of the plant.
In a statement to newspapermen Ramsey said he was convicted
"some outside source" was responsible for the ghastly disaster that turned the company's new and modern plant on Hawks Prairie, near Olympia, into a virtual shambles late yesterday.
Besides the ten who were killed six persons were injured, two seriously.
Ramsey said the company officials will issue a more comprehensive and definite statement, probably tomorrow, after investigations instituted this forenoon by the company and state and county officials to determine the cause of the disaster are completed.
"I am inclined to believe someone outside the company's personnel threw a detonating cap into the dynamite mixer before the fire started,"
Ramsey said.
"In the type of explosive used at the plant it would be impossible to detonate by the mixing process. The explosion was caused by something outside the routine."
Ramsey, who inspected the scene of the explosion with J. A. Denn, president, and Fred W. Packwood, secretary of the company, said the first explosion occurred in the mixing room and the second in the loading room.
Neither Denn nor Packwood would issue statements. Packwood, however, hinted that he suspected that the explosions were not the result of an accident.
Ramsey discounted estimates of survivors that eight tons of dynamite were in the loading room, mixed and ready for packing into sticks. He estimated that the amount did not exceed two tons, an amount that nevertheless was sufficient to completely demolish the plant and hurl heavy pieces of equipment several hundred feel.
The plant was partly protected by insurance, Ramsey said. He also revealed that the victims of the disaster were protected by state industrial insurance.
After visiting the scene of the explosion state and county officials intended to continue their investigations by interviewing survivors.
The investigations were instituted by Smith Troy, Deputy Thurston County prosecutor; State Insurance Commissioner William A. Sullivan and the state department of labor and industries, headed by E. Pat Kelly. The latter is interested in claims for compensation from dependents of the victims and the injured.
Troy said his investigation of surviving employes who were in the mixing room at the time the fire started revealed they believed they had extinguished a small blaze started by an overheated grinding machine.
Considerable doubt as to the real cause of the explosions appeared to have developed through assertions of powder experts, Troy said.
They contended the type of powder made at the plant could not be detonated without force, such as might be imparted through a heavy blow. Their assertions heightened the mysterious circumstances of the explosions.
The experts insisted, Troy said, that the powder could not be exploded by fire, citing a previous occasion when the plant was destroyed by fire without an explosion occurring.
This contention was somewhat substantiated, Troy said, when a truck load of powder, standing in one of the loading sheds, was completely burned without exploding.
As grim evidence of the time of the tragedy, the hands of the clock in the plant office building, damaged by the blasts, stopped at exactly 3:54 p.m.
While the investigations were being conducted an increase in the death toll appeared likely.
Attendants at the hospital here, where the injured are being treated, reported that WILLIAM BARTOW, chemist and plant superintendent and the one man who probably could give the most comprehensive explanation and picture of what happened in the plant before it was virtually blown off the face of the earth by the terrific explosions, is dangerously near death. He received a fractured skull and other injuries.
From Seattle came reports that BARTOW had been experimenting with a new formula, but these were not confirmed.
While the investigators were at work, scores of the curious continued to visit the scene of the war-like devastation. In Olympia funeral arrangements were being completed for the victims of the ghastly disaster.
All but three of the victims apparently met instant death as the explosions blasted the plant into bits that were scattered hundreds of feet, some of them as death-dealing missiles. Some of the bodies were found 100 feet or more from the plant site.
SCOTT YARBORO, 21, an employe of the plant, told a story today of the blast entirely different from those of the other survivors. The trouble started with a fire in the mixing room, and workers played a hose on it for a while before fleeing to safety.
"The fire in the mixing room was virtually out," said YARBORO, "and I was standing near the loading room when the explosion came. It was in the packing room. BILL BARTOW had just gone from the mixing room down to a switch controlling the electric motors in the packing room. He threw the switch and everything seemed to go up in flames."
"It's hard to explain just what it felt like. I felt as though I'd been hit by a hot wind, that was so strong it lifed me from my feet and slammed me to the ground. The air was full of flying sand and wood, and for a second it seemed the air was on fire ..."
YARBORO escaped with cuts and minor injuries.
Those killed by the explosion were:
CHARLES CARPENTER, 55, Black Lake, mixing room employe.
HAZEL EPPLEY, 37, Olympia, packer.
HENRY J. DENN, SR., 67, mixing room employe, Camp Travis.
ALVIN A. SMITH, 23, Camp Travis, mixing room worker.
ANDREW HAYDEN, 29, truck driver, Olympia.
JOHN Q. ADAMS, 43, cartridge packing plant.
JOHN CLAUSEN, 24, mixing room employe, Camp Travis.
PURL ABRAHAM ULERY, 36, cartridge packing plant, South Bay.
OLIVER WILSON, 12, stepson of Henry Denn, Jr., truck driver for the company.
WILLIAM E. BARTOW, 46, superintendent and chemist. (Died in Hospital).
The injured included:
GLENN MOYER, plant superintendent, head injuries and burns, condition is critical.
ROSCOE DEEDS, employe, severe burns and shock.
SCOTT YARBORO, 21, cuts and shock.
GEORGE DENN, 25, face cuts and shock.
MRS. MARGARET SKINNER, 25, cuts and bruises.
EDWARD F. PARKER, 42, bruises.
Identification of the dead was difficult. All were either burned or mangled almost beyond recognition. Some of the bodies were found as far as 75 feet from the scene of the blasts.
Even relatives had difficulty in recognizing the victims after the bodies had been brought to Olympia.
The company's main storage magazine, containing several tons of powder and located about 200 yards from the plant, escaped destruction.
Parts of the plant that were not blown to bits by the main blast later were razed by fire.
To prevent the spread of brush fires started by the explosion squads of Olympia police and firemen and state patrolmen were hurried to the scene. All of the available ambulances in Olympia were rushed to the plant.
The state patrolmen, after working with Olympia police and firemen in removing bodies from the wreckage and gathering up others that had been hurled clear, remained to combat brush fires.
The plant was a comparatively small one, employing 15 on a shift. The loss was estimated at $75,000.
The explosions were preceded by a fire that ignited the clothing of ROSCOE DEEDS, mixing room employe. He leaped into a safety tank and while fellow workers organized into a fire fighting unit he was rushed to the hospital by HENRY DENN.
DENN had barely reached the road to the plant when the major explosion followed.
HAZEL EPPLEY, one of those killed, assisted in loading DEEDS into an emergency car and had just returned to the plant to assist in fighting the fire when the explosion occurred.

Centralia Daily Chronicle Washington 1934-06-28