Hallett, OK Fireworks Plant Explodes, June 1985


Hallett, Okla. -- A series of explosions felt as far as 13 miles away flattened a fireworks plant Tuesday where extra workers had been hired for the Fourth of July season, killing at least 21 people, injuring five and leaving two missing.
"It was a massive explosion, very intense," said DR. JOSEPH PIERCE, the medical examiner for Creek County who checked the bodies as they were brought from the rubble. "It melted metal into gelatin."
Authorities were checking reports that some people younger than 18 years old were working illegally at the plant during the holiday rush. KERRIE GERS, director of the Employment Standards Division of the state Department of Labor, said federal and state laws require that employees be at least 18 to work in such plants.
The plant had a necessary manufacturing license, said PAULA ROSS, a spokesman for the state Tax Commission, the issuing agency.
"It sounded just like a loud bomb. There was this huge mushroom cloud and white smoke all over the place," said MARY LEWIS, who lives in a trailer house about a quarter of a mile from the sprawling Aerlex Corp. plant, which manufactured high-powered aerial displays.
LEWIS said she grabbed her three children and ran toward the home of her mother-in-law, who lives about 200 yards from the plant.
"I saw two men coming up the hill .. one of them was burning," she said. "We put him in a car and took him to the hospital. He was tearing off his clothes and screaming." She identified the man as RICHARD ALAN JOHNSON of Jennings, the owner of the plant.
JOHN COCHRAN, fire chief of Cleveland, Okla., said the explosions rattled the windows at his fire station, 13 miles from Hallett. The explosions also set several automobiles on fire and started three grass fires 500 yards from the plant, located in a densely wooded hollow.
Lt. JIM KING of the Oklahoma Highway Patrol said rescuers were searching for two people who were reported missing.
Gov. GEORGE NIGH ordered 18 National Guard personnel to help law enforcement officials at the plant site for the next several days. The governor also declared a period of mourning and ordered state flags flown at half-staff through Sunday.
The explosion was the second in six years at the plant, which began manufacturing fireworks in 1973. No one was injured in a blast at the company's main building in 1979, which was blamed on sunlight reflecting from an automobile mirror and igniting combustible material.
KING said the cause of Tuesday's explosion had not been determined, but authorities were investigating reports the blasts may have been caused by carelessness outside the building where a pickup truck was being loaded.
Hallett, a town of fewer than 200, is about 40 miles west of Tulsa. The plant is about three or four miles southeast of Hallett.

Daily Herald Chicago Illinois 1985-06-26


I'm sorry for this event

I'm sorry for this event happens.

Painful Memories of Fireworks Every Year...

Debbie Ledbetter...my dear old friend and tennis partner. I'm Rhonda Nail and I cannot look at a single firework in the sky even at Disneyland without feeling the pain and chaos of that most tragic day. I know God saved my family....my father had quit a week earlier...he was just tired of it, my sister a few weeks before that and myself maybe a year earlier...I had been driving in on weekends to help the plant prepare for July festivities. That day I was in Hallett taking a nap on a waterbed..and almost was knocked out of it! The money was so great,,,and Alan made sure we were all safe on those stormy electrical days by spraying us down with antistatic spray. I remember Dean coming in often and cracking us up....going out to watch Bob Osborn roll shot and walk match. I thoroughly enjoyed working with Marilyn who was so kind and always shared her Little Debbies.....watermelon and her kindness patiently and proudly teaching me how to pack the balls, rice paper, the rice and that spoonful of gunpowder so tightly packed and taped.
Dean was my brother....]we unwrapped Christmas gifts the night before Christmas, played with fishing pole etc. and rewrapped. Of course drinking a few beers awhile others were asleep., He was an amazing boy and athlete. God bless Hazel Osbourn for the pain she has encountered by losing her mom and brother Robert. I love you and think of you so often my dear 1984 classmate.

I would be willing to help create a memorial for that location. Debbie...you have always been a leader....let me know!
Im in LA....818 636 8390 e-mail Rnail@sinaiakiba.org or nailrhonda@yahoo.com
Anyone else interested can give numbers, addresses and e-mail addresses, we should organize a meeting for discussion and suggestions.


There were several employees that were not present that day of the explosion. My brother Kevin was at his six week National Guard training. Robbie Potts called in that day sick. I got married Saturday the 22nd so i was not present the day of the explosion. I heard it on the radio and was in disbelief... i was on the phone all morning calling and calling hopeing someone would answer the phone and that they would tell me all was ok. I deeply regret that the 13 year old son of Butch and Maralyn Osburn went in this week to help and took my place. God bless Butch were ever you are. I loved everyone that i worked with and miss them dearly. I would like to help set up an memorial of some kind to honor the fallen. We all worked hard and had fun i have very fond memories of the time i spent there. We were like a big family. We were all proud of the work we did. We honored our country with the fireworks for the fourth of July. I remember making the fireworks for Micheal Jacksons world tour and Jessie Don laughed because i glued the biggest beetles to the 12" ball shells he had ever seen. I remember one day we were walking match. It was windy by the end of the day i was black from head to toe. Mom's washing machine smelled like black powder for years after. Kevin, Robbie and Roger all decided to throw me in the pond one day after work i hung on for dear life it was a nasty pond i told them if i go in that nasty water you are all gong in with me, needless to say they over powered me . I will never forget ........Love Deb


Uncle Alan was not on fire, he did have pins in his hand if I remember right. We all miss Aunt Fran so much. We also miss Aunt charlotte and Uncle Alan.


But a lot of grief anyway. I know the story as well as you do. And you lost a lot of your family. I don't think any cared about that. rbootsie p.s. I know how hard it is to loose a son as well as Maxine

Not true

Alan Johnson was not taken by car to the hospital. He was not on fire. I should know he is my husband. No one was missing. Yes 21 did die that day, my son, my sister and neice was part of the 21 dear friends and loved ones. iIt was an accident, still dont know for sure what caused it. Never will know,but it was not the fault of anyone. Rumors are hard to life down and hurt so many. At a time like this, people need to offer their help and prayers, not gossip and take sides against something they know nothing about.