San Antonio, TX Ice Plant Explosion, May 1985



San Antonio, Texas (AP) -- Investigators poking through the remains of a gutted ice plant tentatively blamed an ammonia leak for an explosion that killed four people and injured at least 21.

Deputy Fire Chief Jim Miller said the blast Wednesday "evidently was caused by an ammonia leak" at the downtown plant, owned by Lone Star Ice and Food Stores and Southern-Hencke.

All but one of the injured were treated at hospitals and discharged for ammonia burns or inhalation of fumes, officials said. DELFINO MUNOZ, 31, one of at least 15 firefighters hurt at the explosion site, was held overnight for observation, said Baptist Hospital spokesman Ruben Garansuay.

The dead were identified as MACARIO MARTINEZ, 55, of San Antonio; JESUS RIOS ACOSTA, 31, of San Antonio; ASCENCION ORTIZ RODRIGUEZ, 33; and RITO CAZARES, 55, said investigator Eva Hickman of the Bexar County medical examiner's office

"There wasn't a whole lot to work with," said Alfred Lozano, an Emergency Medical Service paramedic who witnessed the removal of bodies from the plant. "They were pretty well burned up."

There was no fire at the ice house, but it "looked like a war zone," said Lone Star district superintendent Dennis Cooper, who arrived five minutes after the explosion had ripped a gaping 40-foot hole in a wall.

Cooper said the plant used ammonia pressurized in a piping system as a coolant to make ice. Officials said a pipe apparently gave way in the blast.

Authorities sealed off a two-block area surrounding the plant, but did not evacuate residents in the neighborhood just blocks from the site of Hemisfair, the 1968 world's fair.
Allen Lander, an official with the ice company, inspected the plant but said there was no immediate way to determine how the explosion occurred.

A company employee who asked to remain anonymous said the explosion "probably was (caused by) a backup in pressure because ammonia isn't that flammable. They were working with the machine making ice in the back. There weren't any flammable materials around that would have started it."

Chronicle Telegram Elyria Ohio 1985-05-30