Moore County Disaster 1956 - Dumas, TX
Posted by: Groundspeak Premium Member YoSam.
N 35° 51.481 W 101° 58.376
14S E 231539 N 3972282
Quick Description: A disaster that ranks third behind Sept. 11, 2001, in total firefighter deaths in the United States occurred 50 years ago at Valero Energy's McKee Refinery near Dumas.
Location: Texas, United States
Date Posted: 10/23/2014 9:52:12 AM
Waymark Code: WMMQ3F
Views: 3

Long Description:

County of memorial: Moore County
Location of memorial: 8th St. & US 87 (Main St.) courthouse lawn, Dumas
Memorial Text:

But whether on the plains so high
On in the battle’s Van,
The fittest place where man can die
Is where he dies for Man


Dedicated to those who gave their lives in the Moore County Disaster on July 29, 1956

Ray Biles
Lewis A. Broxon
O.W. “Shine” Cleveland
Gilford Corse
Billy Joe Dunn
Claude L. Emmett
Alvin W. Freeman
Sam A. Gibson
Durwood C. Lilley
Charles W. Lummus
Oliver Milligan
Paschel Poole
James E. Rivers
M. Wayne Slagle
Wayne Thomas
Donald W. Thompson
Gayle D. Wier
Ruebert S. “Cotton” Wier
Joe W. West


"19 firefighters died at refinery in 1956

"A disaster that ranks third behind Sept. 11, 2001, in total firefighter deaths in the United States occurred 50 years ago at Valero Energy's McKee Refinery near Dumas.

Nineteen firefighters died in the July 29, 1956, explosive firestorm that also injured at least 30, including lashing severe burns upon bystanders a quarter of a mile away, according to Industrial Fire World Magazine.

"My father was the 19th to die. He was also the last to die," said Larry Lilley, a 62-year-old retired Lubbock Fire District chief.

D.C. Lilley, a volunteer firefighter and equipment manager on Sunray's Engine One, was 39.

"As near as I can tell, his fire- truck was on the downhill side and approximately 400 feet away, we think," said Larry Lilley, who was 11 back then. "My father was found underneath his firetruck."

The blaze began with an explosion in the early morning hours at what was then the Shamrock Oil and Gas McKee plant, according to a December 2006 article in the magazine.

Amid heavy vapors stirred by a light southwest wind, firefighters toiled against the ground fire at the refinery's tank farm and doused tanks with water to keep them cool.

"Heat from the blaze of the first explosion, which was between 6:15 and 6:30 a.m., ignited fuels in other nearby tanks and sent up a vast cloud of dense black smoke which dominated the northern skies throughout the day," according to the July 30, 1956, Amarillo Daily News. "So intense was the heat from the initial explosion that bystanders standing a quarter of a mile away received severe burns and all within 100 yards were charred beyond recognition. ...

"Those who escaped the blast alive said a huge fireball moved out over the area where the firemen were working, consuming everything it touched. The heat blistered paint on cars and trucks parked several hundred yards away and set weeds and bushes on fire."

Lilley said many of the firefighters must have realized another explosion was imminent, "because I think most of them were burned from the back to the front. The doctor that wrote the death certificate for my father, he did not know how to describe the burns, and the cause of death was listed as fourth- to sixth-degree burns.

"Most people only know of first-, second- and third-degree burns, so you can imagine what the other three are like."

As he spoke, Lilley looked at photographs of his father and newspaper clippings about the disaster and about firefighters he has known in his own career who perished. He talked quietly, his pauses of grief palpable through the phone line.

"I don't think most people have an idea of what it's like for people in the fire service or their families - and I can't expect them to because they haven't had to live night and day with it," he said.

The explosion left behind a grisly scene. Against a backdrop of fire, crews removed bodies found 300 to 400 feet from the explosion, said Lilley, whose father survived the blast, but later died at Moore County Memorial Hospital.

The disaster left 35 children fatherless, the Amarillo Globe-Times reported.

Lilley recalls the seemingly endless funerals.

"We happened to live across the street from the First Baptist Church in Sunray," he said. "Four of the funerals were held right across the street from our house, of which my dad's was the last. It's approximately a mile and a quarter from town to the cemetery."

Lilley paused, then resumed in a soft, halting cadence.

"I can remember, from the church to the cemetery, I don't know where the people came from, but there wasn't a single space that wasn't filled.

"My only regret is that my family, my wife, my children, grandchildren, never got to meet my father."

Outside assistance rushed to the site: area firefighters, personnel from the Amarillo Air Force Base and National Guard, the Red Cross. The blaze was knocked down but continued to burn into the next day. Lilley said he believes it was about a week before it finally burned out.

In April, Valero - which now operates the plant - honored the fallen firefighters in a ceremony naming it's newest McKee refinery firefighting facility "Station 19," signifying the number who died.

Lilley and his mother, Dorothy, were among 600 people, including other victims' relatives, who attended the ceremony, he said.

"Valero did an excellent job," he said. "They've gone out to do as much as they know to do. You can't bring people back. That's never going to happen."

The new station is the second for the plant, which has a brigade of 63 firefighters, Industrial Fire World Magazine reported."
~ Amarillo Globe-News - Saturday, February 17, 2007 -Karen Smith Welch

Physical address:
715 S. Dumas Ave.
Dumas, TX USA
79029


Memorial Website: Not listed

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