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The Great Dynamite Disaster of 1895

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Surviving horse of Great Explosion in Butte, 1895.

by Diane Larson

The history of Butte contains its fair share of tragedy. Still, Butte doesn’t shy away from these tragic moments, instead, it embraces the history; good and tragic it becomes part of the identity of this city. Butte remembers with great deference those lost in each of these disasters.

One such tragedy happened on the night of January 15, in 1895.

Just before 10:00 pm, a fire alarm sounded. The warehouse district of Butte was in trouble. According to an article on the Butte-Silver Bow Archives website “some railroad men in charge of the switch engines first saw smoke coming from the roof of the Kenyon-Connell building,” in the warehouse district.

Firefighters arrived on the scene, unknown to them at the time “an abundance of dynamite was illegally being stored in warehouses owned by Kenyon-Connell Commercial Co and the Butte Hardware co,” said The Montana Standard.

It was reported that the first big blast happened just eight minutes after 10:00 pm, just 13 minutes from the first sighting of smoke. This explosion was seen and heard in neighborhoods all over Butte. Stories of the account say that the force of the explosion could be felt blocks away.

According to the article on the Archives website, the amount of dynamite being stored in these warehouses had not been “accurately ascertained, but the quantity must have been enormous.”

Once the blast was heard and seen all over the city people swarmed to the sight to give a helping hand where they could. They began the sad work of removing the dead and injured from further danger. It was at this time that the second explosion happened. Accounts say that it came from the warehouse of the Butte Hardware Company. It had been set afire from the first explosion.

When the second explosion occurred, the horror from the first repeated, but worse. “It is the opinion of many that the loss of life by the second explosion was greater than that of the first due to the large crowd that has assembled by this time,” says the Archives. Many of this crowd were on site to help where needed.

“It is believed the first explosion killed 13 firemen working the blaze and three of their four horses. Subsequent explosions would kill approximately 41 others, including one police officer,” reported the Montana Standard.

January 15, 2020, marks the 125th anniversary of the “Great Dynamite Explosion.” There will be a memorial held at 24 East Broadway (old City Hall, now Advanced Dermatology). It will be a Candle Light Ceremony with a reception to follow at the Butte-Silver Bow Public Archives.



 

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