Grayson County TXGenWeb
Denison Disasters


Courtesy photo : Claud Easterly

Donna Hunt Recalling Denison's worst disaster
On the left is an ice house operated by Southern Ice Company on the northwest corner of the Morton-Maurice intersection.  Across the avenue is Fisher Grocery and a Texaco service station.

Sixty-five years ago on November 21, 1944, what began as a fender bender turned into a fiery holocaust that engulfed a one-block radius of the accident scene, the worst disaster in Denison's history.

It was about five minutes until 5 p.m., just two days before Thanksgiving when a Dodge sedan passenger car rear-ended a butane gas truck at the intersection of Morton Street and Maurice Avenue.  Two minutes after the accident, fumes exploded setting fire to everything around.

Thirteen people eventually lost their lives in the butane explosion on what has been called "Denison's Black Tuesday".  The Denison Herald reported in the next day's paper that the accident between the car and the gas truck broke a drain pressure in the tank and vapor spewed through the broken pipe.

Jeff Whitfield, driver of the butane truck, realized what was happening and ran, yelling a warning to everyone in sight before the explosion occurred.  He was joined by Earl Vick, employee of the Fisher Grocery Store at 1431 W. Morton.  Of the fifteen injured, Whitfield was among the least seriously hurt.

Vick told the paper that he ran from store, urging other to follow him.  He ran east on Morton as fast as he could, calling to people looking toward the collision to run because there might be an explosion.  He said he could feel the heat on his back when he heard the blast.  He threw himself to the ground and he said the "earth rocked from the concussion".

The Dodge sedan was occupied by Mr. and Mrs. John Marshall and Mrs. Otto C. Ahlers of Sherman and Mrs. R.B. Marshall of Dallas, who were returning to Sherman after visiting a relative in Durant, Okla.

Three others who lost their lives were among a half dozen people in the Fisher Grocery at the time of the wreck and who fled from the building seconds before the blast rocked the neighborhood.  F.L. Nix was in the store and ran to a small warehouse east of the grocery story where he lost his life.

The newspaper reported that a white vapor spread across the block.  Butane is heavier than air and settled to the ground where it eventually hit a spark and exploded.

Witnesses reported seeing three major explosions.  Demolished were a nearby warehouse.  A newly-painted home and garage apartment were stripped of their paint.  Seven separate buildings also caught fire and were burning when firemen arrived.  Fire Chief Pat Lowe said that five different water lines were laid to handle the flames and all available fire equipment was rushed to the scene.  The Chief of Police ordered the fire department to tow the butane truck to the tall hill to the west of the intersection.

Perrin Air Force Base sent military policemen, ambulance and medical personnel to help with the emergency and ambulances also came from Sherman to help carry the injured to the hospital.  

Although the plate glass windows in the Fisher Grocery located next door to where the blast occurred were not damanged, a horse in a barn a block away was blown through the wall and through a fence, yards away, by the concussion.

The Herald's extra edition published the next morning told of the blast and reported that 14 persons were seriously injured and taken to three hospitals.  The 2,000 copies of a 4-page extra run of papers sold out quickly and the demand for more continued well into the night.

West Morton Street at North Maurice Avenue
Butane Explosion
21 November 1944

Seven people died that first night at the Katy Hospital and six others passed away during days after the blast.  Last to die was a 12-year-old boy, Lonnie Jo Hammons, who had been sent to the grocery store by his mother for a can of tomatoes.  He was the only youth involved in the blast.


Grayson County Index
If you find any of Grayson County TXGenWeb links inoperable, please send a message.
This page is maintained by Elaine Nall Bay 2010