Ammonium nitrate is a volatile compound, but very useful as a fetilizer for enriching soil with nitrogen. Its only other use is as an explosive. A factory fire at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas, ignited a stockpile of ammonium nitrate and the resulting explosion killed 14 people and sent over a hundred to hospitals last Wednesday, but its only the latest of the many ammonium nitrate disasters. Oregon had a big one in 1959.
Truck driver George Rutherford parked his truck in front of the Garretsen Building Supply Company in downtown Roseburg, Oregon, on the night of August 6, 1959. He then retreated to the nearby Umpqua Hotel to get some rest before his morning delivery. The delivery never happened, because sometime between midnight and 1 a.m., the Garretsen Building Supply Company caught on fire. Shortly thereafter, the fire ignited the contents of Rutherford’s truck—two tons of dynamite and 4.5 tons of ammonium nitrate. All of the buildings in an eight-block radius were totally destroyed (pictured above) and 14 people died. Rutherford survived.