On April 16,1947, a day that probably began like many others, in Texas City, Texas until shortly before 8:00 in the morning. The hatch covers were removed from hold 4 of the French ship Grandcamp. This morning it was to be loaded with the remainder of it’s ammonium nitrate fertilizer. I’m not sure how much it had left to load but it already had 2,300 tons on board at this time. The fertilizer was not the only thing that the Grandcamp had on board for this trip. At this point in time there weren’t all of the safety precautions taken that we do now.
It’s believed that soon after workers entered the hold someone smelled smoke and spotted it rising between the hold and the hull of the ship layers from layers below the men. It’s documented that when the men found the smoke they used a gallon of water and the contents of two fire extinguishers to try and put out the fire before asking for a fire hose to be lowered into the hold although it was never used because shortly after that the men were ordered back topside out of the hold.
Although the first course of action that enters mind as I imagine it did theirs is to use water to put out the flames they were asked not to do so because the water would have ruined not only just the fertilizer but the rest of the ship’s contents also. Instead they latched all of the coverings and vents to the holds shut and turned on the ships steam system. However this did not help the problem. The fires continued to grow forcing most of the ships crew to leave the ship. The fire department was reached after what I imagine to be much work seeing as how the telephone workers were on strike at this point. For what reason I’m not quite sure.
By 8:30 the pressure from the latched hatches had built up so much that it blew off the hold comers and a massive column of what was described to be orange smoke began rising into the sky. This strange colored smoke and the sirens are blamed for the crowd of...