Anthony, NE Building Explosion, Sep 1984
OFFICIALS SEEK OIL BLAST CAUSE.
Anthony (AP) -- Investigators probed the rubble Thursday of an explosion and fire that killed two men as it ripped through an oil company building hurling debris two blocks and sending up a fireball visible for 10 miles.
About a half dozen other people were injured, two of them seriously, in the explosion around 9:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Farmer's Oil Co. in West Anthony, a Harper County sheriff's deputy said. The cause of the explosion hadn't been determined Thursday afternoon, authorities said.
The Farmer's Oil employees killed in the explosion were badly charred, authorities said.
Their names were:
RON GETTLE, aged 17.
JOE WAYNE PIERCE, 32, Wakita, Okla, truck driver.
KENNETH RAY GRAVES, 51, president of the oil company, was in critical condition at St. Francis Regional Medical Center in Wichita with burns to 70 percent of his body, a hospital spokesman said.
Tom Ackmire, an investigator for the State Fire Marshal's office, said he was unable to interview GRAVES Thursday because of GRAVES' physical condition.
Ackmire said he won't attempt to set a damage estimate or determine a possible cause for the explosion and fire until today. He said he and federal investigators, who will provide technical assistance, planned to thoroughly go over the blast scene today.
"You know how the atom bomb looks with that big, fiery mushroom cloud? That's what it looked like," Marilyn Warnock, who was in a convenience store across the street, said of the explosion.
Mary Kenmore, who was working behind the counter at the convenience store, said the explosion "was like a bomb. I glanced over there and all I could see was flames."
Jeff Bogen was hanging a garage door with his father at their home next door when the explosion occurred. "The building was there and then it was just gone," he said.
"There were just some beams standing there where the building use to be. A big force blew the door down on top of us. We just scrambled out of there as fast as we could. The concussion was really great ... and then there was just a big ball of flame and stuff falling."
The building housed Farmers Oil, a Standard Oil wholesaler and fuel and anhydrous ammonia transporter. The same structure also housed an optometrist's office and the local office of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Social Conservation Service.
Harper County Attorney Phil Unruh said the building was virtually destroyed.
The convenience store and a restaurant across the street, as well as nearby houses, were damaged. Unruh said there were numerous reports of window breakage in Anthony.
GRAVES had backed a tractor-trailer tanker rig into a shop area just before the explosion, witnesses said. Large supplies of tires and oil products were stored nearby, a Farmers Oil worker said. Officials said the truck had been used to carry a load of anhydrous ammonia, but was filled with water at the time of the explosion.
GRAVES was treated at the Anthony Hospital and later transferred by helicopter to the burn center at St. Francis in Wichita.
The blaze that gutted the building raged out of control for nearly three hours, Harper County Undersheriff Larry Stone said. About 150 residents on the west side of town were evacuated from their homes.
Salina Journal Kansas 1984-09-07