Incident Date: April 16, 1947
Department: Texas City Volunteer Fire Department (TX)
Number of Line-of-Duty Deaths: 27
At approximately 8:00 am on the morning of April 16, 1947, smoke was observed coming from the cargo hold of the SS Grandcamp, a converted World War II Liberty ship assigned to the French Line. The ship was loaded with 2300 tons of ammonium nitrate fertilizer, small arms ammunition, sisal twine, and machinery bound for Europe as part of the post-World War II rebuilding effort.
The ship’s crew attempted conventional shipboard firefighting methods that included closing the hatches and injecting steam to suppress the fire and preserve the cargo. None of the methods were effective as ammonium nitrate is an oxidizer. As the fire increased in intensity, crew members and stevedores were forced off the ship. Alarms were sounded summoning the entire Texas City Volunteer Fire Department (28 men, four trucks) along with the Republic Oil Refining Company firefighting brigade. The crews were able to get hoselines in place, but the water was vaporizing as it contacted the hull of the Grandcamp.
At approximately 8:30 a.m. the hatch covers leading to the ammonium nitrate hold blew off, releasing a thick and ominous column of pressurized orange smoke into the morning sky. At 9:00 am flames shot out of the hatch. At 9:12, the Grandcamp disintegrated in an enormous explosion that destroyed the port, much of the town and killed 568 people, including all but one member of the Texas City Volunteer Fire Department, and injured approximately 3500 workers and residents. The disaster was so violent and extensive accurate numbers of casualties are imprecise due to many of the deceased being vaporized in the explosion, many of the dock workers being itinerant, and hospitals being overwhelmed by casualties. A second ship, the High Flyer, moored nearby and loaded with sulfur and ammonium nitrate, was heavily damaged and set afire in the first explosion. It exploded at 1:10 am the next morning, compounding the damage.
The Texas City Disaster is the nation’s worst industrial disaster and one of the worst losses of firefighters in history. The 27 firefighters killed that day were:
- ABC 13 News (KTRK): Remember When Hundreds killed, thousands injured in Texas City disaster of 1947
- Texas City Firefighters Local 1259: The Texas City Disaster Memorial | The Texas City Disaster
- The History Channel: Fertilizer explosion kills 581 in Texas
- Firehouse.com: The Day Texas City Lost Its Fire Department
- Wired: April 16, 1947: Ship Explosion Ignites 3-Day Rain of Fire and Death
- The Portal to Texas History: Photos from the Texas City Disaster, 1947
- Wikipedia: Texas City disaster
- Texas DPS Museum 1947: Texas City Disaster Part 1 Graphic Images (Viewer Discretion Advised)
- Texas DPS Museum 1947: Texas City Disaster Part II Graphic Images (Viewer Discretion Advised)
- 1947 – Texas City Ship Explosions & Fire
- Texas City Disaster Aftermath Part 1 1947
- The Historic 1947 Texas City Disaster (by 77 Films)
More About Memorial Monday
Memorial Monday is established to remember the sacrifice of firefighters who died in the line of duty before the National Memorial was created in 1981. On the last Monday of every month, a firefighter, or groups of firefighters, will be remembered through information located about the firefighter and their sacrifice.
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