Elroy, TX Gas Pumping Station Explosion, Feb 1973



Austin (UPI) -- A leaking gas pumping station exploded "like an atom bomb" shortly before midnight killing four persons and seriously burning four others. The explosion caused a fire so intense that two stalled cars were melted before it was controlled today.
"It was just like the mushroom back in '46 when they experimented with the atom bomb," said G. W. Moffett, owner of a small store in nearby Elroy, 10 miles east of Austin.
The explosion, which burned out power lines serving the Elroy community and melted the cars, sent flames shooting 300 yards into the air.
MR. and MRS. WILLIAM B. HILGERS said their car stalled, apparently from the gas-laden air, as they drove past the pumping station shortly after 11 p.m. on their way home from attending a concert in Austin.
"We saw this white cloud of gas," MRS. HILGERS said. "We could hear the gas leaking and could see the gas pouring out of the ground."
The HILGERS ran to a house 400 yards away.
"BILL kept turning around all the way. Just before we got there, we saw the lights of this panel truck. It just blew up."
The HILGERS cars, parked at the gate to the pumping station, "looked like a piece of melted lava" when the fire was brought under control today.
Two other cars -- apparently occupied by the victims -- were also badly burned.
Sheriffs officers listed the dead as PATTI GRANT, wife of MICHAEL GRANT; JASON GRANT, two-month-old son of the GRANTS; JUDY SHERMAN, New York, and JEFF AGNETA, Long Island, N.Y.
Listed in critical condition in Brackenridge Hospital with second and third degree burns was MICHAEL GRANT, 26. KATHY GRANT, 19, was in very serious condition.
Austin doctors planned to transfer PETER SHERMAN, 25, and SALINA SHERMAN, 6 months, to the burn center at Brooke General Hospital in San Antonio. Both were listed in critical condition.
The escaping gas which stalled the HILGERS' car apparently was ignited by one of the two other vehicles which passed the pumping station, area residents concluded. Flames could be seen 15 miles away in parts of Austin.
Herbert Heine, who lives near the pumping station, said "I looked out my window and could see a streak of fire all the way up and down the valley. It was a sheet of flames 300 yards high."
The blaze scorched land for 500 yards around the pumping station owned by Phillips Pipeline Company, leaving telephone poles smoldering.
J. L. Jolly, one of the first on the scene, said,
"There were people just standing around while people screamed." He and his son pulled a woman from a ditch, and said she was screaming for her baby.
Law enforcement officers called a state helicopter with a searchlight to the scene to look for bodies.

San Antonio Light Texas 1973-02-23