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U.S. Fire Administration
Smoke was observed coming from the lower hold of the SS Grandcamp at around 8:15 AM, April 16th, 1947. The vessel was loaded at that time with some 2300 tons of ammonium nitrate fertilizer. Crew attempted to extingush the flames by their own means before finally summoning the Texas City Fire Department at 8:30. 27 firefighters subsequently arrived on scene and began to attack the flames with their hose lines. Precisely what actions they took is unknown because all 27 firefighters were killed outright when the Grandcamp exploded at 9:12 AM. The ship completely disintegrated. The force of the explosion sent flames, debris and shockwaves thousands of feet, levelling entire structures and severely destroying others. The anchor of the SS Grandcamp was later found over a mile and a half away. Flames enveloped the surrounding area and by early evening another vessel, the SS High Flyer, had caught fire. Flames on the pier presumably reached its open hatchways, which had been blown off from the concussion of the earlier explosion. Attempts to extinguish the fire or to tow the vessel to a safe distance from the pier failed. At 1:10 AM on the 17th the High Flyer also then exploded. While this resulted in only one known fatality it caused further damage to the surrounding facilities and caused a second wave of fires to break out including those in the port's tank farm areas. These latter proved very difficult to extinguish. Effective firefighting operations resumed on the 18th when neighboring communities had dispatched firefighters and apparatus to the scene. The official death count of 581 makes this incident the deadliest industrial accident in US history. Over 5000 people were injured and over 500 homes were destroyed.
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