5 things to know about the PEPCON disaster, 28 years later

Twenty-eight years ago, the Las Vegas Valley experienced one of the largest explosions in history — PEPCON.

A fire started inside a building at Pacific Engineering and Production Corporation of Nevada’s (PEPCON) plant on May 4, 1988. In four minutes, the fire rapidly spread and ignited three massive explosions.

Here are five things you may not know about the explosion that rocked the southern end of the Valley:

The explosion made history

According to a NASA case study on the disaster, the PEPCON explosion, which was the result of sparks from a welding torch setting ablaze a fiberglass infrastructure, created the largest domestic, non-nuclear explosion in recorded history.

 

The plant had a large stockpile of product due to the Challenger explosion

PEPCON was one of two American producers of ammonium perchlorate, a chemical found in solid fuel rocket boosters that is used for NASA Space Shuttles and military-grade weapons, according to the City of Henderson Historical Society.

“Although classified as less hazardous than mixed fuel,” according to NASA, “ammonium perchlorate greatly accelerates the explosive properties of combustible material.”

Two years before the explosion, the Challenger space shuttle had exploded mid-flight, prompting NASA to halt its exploration program. Although PEPCON continued to produce ammonium perchlorate, there was no demand for the chemical and supply continued to build up at the company’s factory.

At the time of the explosion, NASA believed the plant had a stockpile of more than 4,000 tons of chemical on hand, which allowed the initial fire to spread at such a rapid pace.

The impact was felt miles away

The explosion caused an estimated $100 million in damages and impacted structures in a 10-mile radius of the PEPCON plant, which was located on what is now the junction of U.S. Highway 95 and the 215 Beltway.

Two of the biggest blasts measured 3.0 and 3.5 on the Richter scale at observatories in California and Colorado, NASA found. Based on the damage in surrounding areas, investigators also compared the explosion to a 1-kiloton air-blast nuclear detonation.

Shockwaves destroyed nearby buildings in its wake — windows were shattered, walls were cracked and doors were broken.

In addition to completely destroying the neighboring Kidd Marshmallow plant, the Las Vegas Hilton also reported that its windows had shattered as a result of the blast.

Joe Hedrick, a dock worker at PEPCON, said at the time, “The final explosion went off, and (PEPCON) basically disappeared. Boulder Highway looked like a war zone. There was glass everywhere and very few people were out.”

Cindy Tremel told the Henderson Historical Society that windows were blown inwards and front doors blown off homes in her neighborhood.

“There were family pets everywhere wandering the area looking terrified and lost. It took quite awhile for us and the City to put things back together. It was an experience I will never forget,” she said.

PEPCON employees were leaving for lunch

The initial fire erupted as many employees were leaving for lunch. Seventy-five of the plant’s 77 employees were able to escape by running or driving through the desert.

Of the two PEPCON employees killed in the blast, one was confined to a wheelchair and was unable to escape in time while the other victim, also handicapped, remained on scene to alert emergency dispatchers, NASA’s case study stated. Upwards of 370 people suffered injuries.

Several of the injured were first responders from the Henderson Fire Department, according to Clark County, suffering cuts from the engine windows shattering as they approached the area.

After reopening, the company experienced another explosion

Although PEPCON never reopened at the site of its original plant, the company did start over again — with a new name and in a new state.

The company moved its operation to Cedar City, Utah, and changed its name to Western Electrochemical Company.

According to Deseret News, the company experienced its second fatal explosion in nine years in August 1997.

One person was killed and four were injured in what officials described as an “industrial accident.” Before moving to Utah, the one fatality, Danny Balduck, had worked as a supervisor during the PEPCON explosion in Henderson, Deseret News reported.

Contacted Caitlin Lilly at clilly@reviewjournal.com. Find her on Twitter: @caitielilly_

ad-high_impact_4
News
Rick Davidson directs NFR satellite feed
Rick Davidson directs the Wrangler NFR's live satellite feed from a production trailer outside the Thomas & Mack Center. (Patrick Everson)
Scott Boras, Bryce Harper's agent, speaks to media at baseball's winter meetings
Baseball agent Scott Boras updates media on the contract negotiations of his client Bryce Harper during baseball's winter meetings at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, Nevada, on Dec. 12, 2018. (Ron Kantowski/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Achievement School District
The achievement district faced strong opposition from traditional schools back in its beginnings in 2016. But with schools like Nevada Rise and Nevada Prep, it's slowly and steadily growing. Amelia Pak-Harvey/Las Vegas Review-Journal
Fresno State QB on record-breaking receiver
Fresno State quarterback Marcus McMaryion talks record-setting receiver KeeSean Johnson. Video by Mark Anderson/Las Vegas Review-Journal
The annual 'Shop with a Cop' event at Target
This year’s "Shop with a Cop" event gave about 40 children the chance to shop at Target alongside a North Las Vegas Police officers. Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal @Bizutesfaye
Melvin Dummar dead at 74
Melvin Dummar has died at 74. Dummar was famous for claiming to have saved Howard Hughes in a Nevada desert in 1967. Dummar claimed to have been left $156 million in Hughes’ will. The will mysteriously appeared after Hughes’ death in 1976. It was dismissed as a fake two years later. Dummar never saw a dime of the billionaire's fortune. Dummar died Saturday in Nye County.
Officer-involved shooting in Nye County
The Nye County Sheriff's Office gives information about a shooting in Pahrump on Thursday night after a man began firing shots outside of his home. (Nye County Sheriff's Office)
Law Enforcement Active Shooter Training Exercise
Multiple Las Vegas Valley law enforcement agencies held an active shooter drill at the Department of Public Safety’s Parole and Probation office on December 6, 2018. Officials set up the training exercise to include multiple active shooters, a barricaded suspect and multiple casualties. (Katelyn Newberg/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Public memorial service for Jerry Herbst
Archiving effort hits milestone at Clark County Museum
The Clark County Museum catalogs the final item from the bulk of Route 91 Harvest festival artifacts. (John Przybys/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Pearl Harbor survivor Edward Hall talks about his memories of Dec. 7, 1941
U.S. Army Corps Edward Hall, a 95-year-old survivor of Pearl Harbor talks about his memories of that horrific day. Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal @bizutesfaye
Final Route 91 Harvest festival remembrance objects catalogued at Clark County Museum
The last of the more than 17,000 items left at the makeshift memorial near the Las Vegas sign after the Oct. 1 shootings have been catalogued at the Clark County Museum in Las Vegas. The final item was a black-and-white bumper sticker bearing "#VEGASSTRONG. An additional 200 items currently on display at the museum will be catalogued when the exhibit comes down. (K.M. Cannon Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Dozier execution timeline
Scott Dozier was set to be executed July 11, 2018, at the Ely State Prison. Judge Elizabeth Gonzalez delayed the execution.
Grand Jury Indicts Constable for theft
A Clark County grand jury indicted Henderson Constable Earl Mitchell. A Las Vegas Review-Journal investigation prompted the criminal probe. The newspaper found Mitchell wrote himself thousands in checks, took out cash at ATMs and traveled on county funds. He faces four felony counts of theft and a county of public misconduct. Mitchell and his attorney could not be reached for comment.
93-year-old WWII veteran arrested during visit to VA hospital
Dr. S. Jay Hazan, 93, a World War II veteran, talks about his arrest during his visit to VA hospital on Friday, Nov. 30. (Erik Verduzco Las Vegas Review-Journal @Erik_Verduzco_
Pearl Harbor survivor struggles in her senior years
Winifred Kamen, 77, survived the attack on Pearl Harbor as an infant, works a 100 percent commission telemarketing job to make ends meet. (K.M. Cannon Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas Metropolitan Briefing 18th street gang
Las Vegas Metropolitan briefs the media on the recent arrests made regarding the 18th street gang.
Man shot in Las Vegas traffic stop had knife, police say
Police said the man fatally shot by an officer during a traffic stop in downtown Las Vegas had a “homemade knife.” Demontry Floytra Boyd, 43, died Saturday at University Medical Center from multiple gunshot wounds after officer Paul Bruning, 48, shot him during a traffic stop. Bruning pulled Boyd over on suspicion of driving recklessly at 7:41 a.m. near Sunrise Avenue and 18th Street.
Catahoula dogs rescued from home in Moapa Valley
Catahoula dogs were brought to The Animal Foundation after being rescued from home in Moapa Valley.
Intuitive Forager Kerry Clasby talks about losses in California wildfire
Intuitive Forager Kerry Clasby talks about losses she suffered in California's Woolsey Fire in Malibu in November. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Benefit dinner for Kerry Clasby, the Intuitive Forager
Sonia El-Nawal of Rooster Boy Cafe in Las Vegas talks about having a benefit for Kerry Clasby, known as the Intuitive Forager, who suffered losses on her farm in California’s Woolsey Fire in Malibu. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Former President George H.W. Bush dies at 94
Former President George H.W. Bush has died at the age of 94. He died Friday night in Houston, about eight months after the death of his wife, Barbara.
Las Vegans Celebrate Big Snowfall
Las Vegans celebrate big snowfall at Lee Canyon.
Exploring old mines for denim jeans and other vintage items
Caden Gould of Genoa, Nev. talks about his experiences looking for vintage denim jeans and other items in old mines and other places areas across Nevada and the west.
Officers share photo of dead gunman after Las Vegas shooting
A little over an hour after SWAT officers entered Stephen Paddock's suite at Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas police officers far from the scene were already sharing cell phone photos of the dead Oct. 1 gunman.
Frontier jet safely returns to Las Vegas after losing engine piece
Frontier jet safely returns to Las Vegas after losing engine piece. (@FlightAlerts_)
Park Service plans ahead for lower lake levels
National Park Service releases new plans to maintain access to the water as Lake Mead continues to shrink.
Women claim abuse at Florence McClure Women's Correctional Facility
Current and ex-inmates, including Merry West, are suing Florence McClure Women’s Correctional Facility, claiming abuse and inadequate medical care. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @rookie__rae
Butte County Sheriff's Office Body Cam Footage
Bodycam video from Butte County (Calif.) Sheriff's Office Deputy Aaron Parmley, who was in Paradise November 8 helping with evacuations. (Butte County Sheriff's Office)
TOP NEWS
News Headlines
ad-infeed_1
ads_infeed_2
Local Spotlight
Add Event
Home Front Page Footer Listing
Circular
You May Like

You May Like