Berlin, NY Propane Gas Explosion, July 1962

PROPANE GAS EXPLOSION KILLS DRIVER, INJURES 16.

Berlin, N.Y. (AP) -- At 5:30 p.m. in the picturesque hamlet of Berlin in eastern New York, dinner was on the stove, the men were returning from work, and GENE MERRILLS was standing beside a barn.
"God, it was like a clap of thunder. A bomb. Everything lit up red," MERRILLS said.
A load of propane gas on a tractor-trailer exploded Wednesday, spurting the flaming liquid as far as a half-mile within this community of 490. The truck driver was injured fatally and 16 men, women and children were hospitalized. Ten of them remained in critical condition today.
A dozen homes and the 179-year-old Baptist church were in ruins.
Thunderheads were gathering in the sky as ROBERT J. McLUCAS, 39, of Pomeroy, Pa., took his big truck down the twisting two-mile hill leading into this community folded into a valley between the Grafton Mountains and the Berkshires near the intersection of the New York-Massachusetts-Vermont state lines. At some point, the brakes apparently failed, State Police said, and McLUCAS leaned on his horn in warning as the vehicle picked up speed. Some witnesses said the brakes appeared to be on fire.
About 50 yards from the village square with its Civil War statue, the truck reached a turn near the bottom of the hill. It jackknifed, the trailer broke off.
"There was a pause, then a pop, than a blam. The flames must have gone 150 to 200 feet in the air bright orange." That was the account of HOLDEN GUTERMUTH, 24, who witnessed it from a field.
McLUCAS was blown 350 feet. He died about two hours later.
Postmaster ROBERT MOSES was closing up for the day. He looked at the house he had built himself. "It was terrible. It was a mass of fire." His wife was inside.
Held back by the searing heat, MOSES watched as his wife crawled into the breezeway, then through the garage, over the car and through a window.
She was critically burned.
Three home were enveloped immediately in flames and hunks of fire soared off off to strike in a cray-quilt pattern among the few dozen white clapboard homes in Berling and the church. A barn a half-mile away housing two school buses was ignited.
A man painting his house a quarter-mile away was blown from his ladder.
The immediate blast occurred in front of the home of KENNETH McCUMBER, 53, and his wife, FLORENCE, 55. The house disintegrated.
"You could see the clapboards come right off the place, said CLIFTON SHUHART, who found the McCUMBERS crawling in a field about 400 feet away. They, too, were burned critically.
Next on the hill was the BRAZIE home. Inside were JOHN BRAZIE, 23, his wife, MARY, 18, and their son, JOHN HR., 18 months.
"I saw a woman and baby run out of a house. They were all afire. It was horrible," said MISS LEONA GAYLE JONES, 23, who was driving home from her state job in nearby Albany.
The BRAZIES were in critical condition.
Fire Chief FRANK JONES responded to the alarm and found his own home burning. What he could not find was his wife.
"He's in terrible shape," the Rensselaer County fire coordinator told a newsman at the scene. "He couldn't find his wife. He's just in a daze."
But MRS. JONES was found uninjured at a neighbor's home.
Sixteen fire departments from communities in the county and from Massacuhusetts fought the flames. At least 11 ambulances, 21 state troopers, and 9 sheriff's deputies responded.
Eight of the injured were in Putnam Memorial Hospital, Bennington, Vt., six were in Samaritan Hospital, Troy, N. Y., and two others were discharged after treatment in Troy.
Those at Bennington were:
JOSEPH E. SAURDIFFE, 53, Bennington, Vt., critical.
MRS. DORIS SAURDIFFE, 32, his wife, critical.
MRS. ROSALEE LOKER, 80, Bennington, MRS. SAURDIFFE'S mother, critical.
VICTORIA LOKER, 35, Berlin, MRS. SAURDIFFE'S sister, critical.
FRANK MARCO, 73, Berlin, fair.
MRS. ETHEL FEATHERS, 63, Berlin, fair.
JOHN FEATHERS, 66, Berlin, her husband, fair.
DONNA GENE WAGER, 15, Berlin, fair.

Nashua Telegraph New Hampshire 1962-07-26

Comments

my mom audrey goodermote

my mom audrey goodermote just told me today that my grandfather John Purdy was working that day near the accident and he seen mary and john run out of her house on fire and put them out, and drove them to meet help

Berlin gas explosion 1962

I did not live in Berlin and my family has resided in Albany since before I was born. I was 5 years old when the explosion took place. I vaguely remember my parents and relatives talking about the horror that had taken place in Berlin and I was scared because if it happened to those unfortunate people it could happen to me too. One of my friends said that she wished that something like that would happen here in Albany because it would be fun. I hated her for a long time for saying that. Some of my relatives wanted to go to the site to see the mess and destruction left behind. I almost wish I hadn't had to go with them.

The utter destruction was beyond words. The charred rubble was everywhere and the area resembled what was left after a tornado. I will never forget it and I can still see it in my mind. What I witnessed left me with a life-long and unreasonable fear of fire. My fear became paralyzing. I had trouble falling asleep for years and was afraid to go to school and leave my mother alone for fear that there would be a fire. I had hysterical outbursts at school and ultimately suffered anxiety attacks that I had to be medicated for. The sight of that destruction and the fear that it could be myself or my loved ones has followed me up until today as I type these words.

My children suffered through my irrational fears as I forced them to practice using a fire ladder repeatedly. I have had smoke alarms everywhere since they were invented. I am obsessive/compulsive making sure that the stove is off or if someone has visited who smokes I repeatedly "feel" around the seat cushions, sometimes repetitiously during the night, getting up again and again. I have anxiety attacks when an oil truck is delivering in the neighborhood. The list is endless. I am 54 years old and the fear has only dulled but has never faded.

To the family and relatives of anyone who died in the fire or who has physical scars, I have thought of them many times over the years with my whole heart. For those who were there and witnessed it, my blessing are with you.

Berlin, NY - 1962 Disaster

Like others.........I did not live in the town of Berlin........But I married John W Brazie in 1967 (for 25 yrs.), becoming step-mother to the youngest victim of this disaster . John W. died in 1992 of a heart attack. I have always presumed that this was partly due to the stress which he had suffered many years following the propane explosion. I saw first hand mental and physical damage this disaster caused. His young wife of only a few years died, his baby son being burnt badly, along with his burns and mental anguish.

I am posting some of the facts that can be verified and other questions answered: Newspapers are not always correct I'm sorry to say.

John H Brazie - Date of birth April 13, 1962 - Current Residence is Tennessee

John had over a dozen skin grafts to help repair the some of the damage that this fire caused. He has been left with severe varicose veins on areas of his body
and his burn scars will remain with him forever. I thank God that he doesn't remember the horror of that day only the stories that he has heard from his father and others, over the years.

The climate in TN is much better for him due to the lack of tolerance of the cold weather here in the NE. In the early 60's skin grafting and surgical procedures
were good.............But, not as good as today.

This is the first time I've

This is the first time I've heard someone ask why my mother died, she didn't die, as most of the people that died were members of my family, they were my Grandmother, Aunts, cousins, etc.

berlin fire

i lived on plank road next to terry goodermote in july of1962 and i'll never forget the fire trucks going by that afternoon. there were so many . even now 45 years later i still have special memories and admiration for the good people of Berlin and i enjoyed my time there as a child.

I was not around during the

I was not around during the Berlin Disaster, but my father was about 14 at the time. He lived at the end of Maple Ave, the road that the First Baptist & Catholic Church are on. I remember stories from when I was younger when he talked about it... Apparently, he was milking a cow in the barn at the time & when the explosion happened, he was knocked right off his stool & the cow kicked him! That's the only story I remember....

BERLIN 1962 EXPLOSION

I LIVED JUST NORTH OF THE EXPLOSION SITE ON MAIN STREET, BESIDE GENE MERRILLS AND ACROSS FROM THE PARSONAGE HOUSE. JUST BY LUCK OF THE WEEK, THAT I WAS NOT A VICTUM OF THE EXPLOSION. AS IT OCCURED ON A WEDNESDAY, AND WE ALWAYS DROVE TO HOOSICK FALLS GROCERY SHOPPING EVERY WEDNESDAY. OTHERWISE, I WOULD HAVE BEEN RIDING MY BIKE AND PLAYING IN THE PARKING LOT THERE AT THE BAPTIST CHURCH, WHERE THE TANK LANDED AND BLEW. I REMEMBER GETTING HOME WITH MY PARENTS WHITNEY AND NANCY RATHBUN, AND MY GREAT AUNT PHOEBE. WE HAD TO PARK ON RT 22, AND CARRY GROCERIES ACROSS THE NEIGHBNORS BACK YARD TO GET TO OUR HOUSE. THEN MY DAD STARTED HOSING DOWN THE ROOF DUE TO THE HEAT AND SPARKS LANDING ON THE ROOF. WE THEN WALKER UP TO THE CATHOLIC CHURCH, WHERE MY GREAT AUNT AND MY FAMILY WATCHED, AS THE STEEPLE FELL BACK INTO THE CHURCH.
I MADE A SCRAP BOOK FOR SCHOOL OF THE EXPLOSION, WITH NUMEROUS PAGES OF ARTICULES, AND PHOTOS. I LATER IN LIFE DONATED IT TO THE TOWN HISTORICAL SOCIETY. AND I LEARNED THAT ON THE 35TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE EXPLOSION IT WAS ON DISPLAY AT THE FIREHOUSE.
ONE MORE THING, LAST YEAR IN 2008, I RECIEVED AN EMAIL FROM A SISTER IN LAW OF JOHN BRAIZIE, ASKING FOR SOME INFO. I EMAILED HER NY NAME, NUMBER AND ANSWERED HER QUESTIONS. THE NEXT EVENING, JOHN BRAZIE CALLED ME, AND WE TALKED FOR ABOUT A HALF HOUR ABOUT THE EXPLOSION. FUNNY THING JOHN TOLD ME, WAS JSUT A COUPLE MONTHS EARLIER, HE WAS ALMOST INVOLVED BEING "GOTTEN" BY ANOTHER TRACTOR TRAILOR TRUCK. HE HAD BEEN MOWING HIS FROM YARD, WHEN A TRUCK THAT SWUPPED THE UNDERSIDE OF AN OVERPASS PASSED HIM, THEN SUDDENLY THE TRAILER SPLIT OPEN AND SPILLED ITS CARGO ALL OVER. JUST A FEW SECONDS SOONER, AND IT WOULD HAVE LANDED ON HIM. AT LEAST THIAT TIME , JOHN WSA LUCKY BUT STILL A SURVIVOR.

ROY RATHBUN

berlin fire 1962

My family didn't move to Berlin until the summer of 1963, when I was 4 and my father was called as pastor of the church that was destroyed. We lived in the parsonage across the street from Mr. Merrills until 1969, and later we moved to a house on Brown's Hollow Rd, halfway between Center Berlin and Cherry Plain. I believe that the fire affected almost everyone in the community in some way for many years, even those who moved into town years later: some of the burned-out shells were not demolished for several years; it took several years to rebuild the First Day Baptist Church building; and me, my sisters and my brother had classmates who either lost relatives in the fire or who had visible burn scars from it. By the time we were in high school no one talked about the fire much. When we did it usually was because a new kid would ask "how come" about something; why did they build the new church building, how did John Brazie Jr get those scars, how did Steve Loker's mother die, and so on. And for many years if I was traveling away from home and told a new acquaintance that I was from Berlin, often they would immediately ask whether that was the town that had the fire...

thank you

Lisa - thank you so very much for sharing you experiences of this disaster. It was amazing to read. Hope you still have your Barbie ...
Stu

berlin fire 1962

i was there that day. i was 9 years old at the time. our family, the konecnys, lived on plank road just above the blast. i was sitting on our porch on a table. i had just returned from walking down to the corner store to buy candy and a comic. i heard the truck go past and looked up and vaguely thought "that guy is going awfully fast." our house was on the last straight away before the hairpin curve leading into the town's center. the blast blew me up from the table, and when as i landed back down, a strip of wood brook off the edge of the table. i remember feeling that i was in slow motion after i looked up and saw the fire ball and turned to run into the house. my feet and arms wouldn't move. my dad, joe konecny, the local music teacher, was working at the local factory for the summer on the other side of town. i was scared that he was caught in the blast on his way home (he wasn't). i started hearing the houses down the street blowing up one at a time as their gas/propane tanks caught on fire. my mom and sisters were freaking out as well. i ran inside, grabbed my barbie doll and other important items (!) and ran out of the house into the middle of the road, thinking i would run up the road if the fire came any closer. a family friend, lady gutermuth, drove a few of the burn victims to the hospital. they were in shock, of course. one said to her "i can't feel my nose." it was (and still is) such a small town, it impacted everyone. it was like a war zone. for weeks afterwards, people travelled to the area to view the scene. i'll never forget it.