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May 14, 2010

Explosion in a gunpowder factory
Posted by Teresa at 03:47 PM *

Jim Macdonald called to say he’s okay, he was first on the scene but he’s not injured; so if any of you catch a news story about the MDM Muzzleloader gunpowder factory exploding in tiny Colebrook, New Hampshire, word is that there are two dead so far, but neither one is Jim.

WMUR says about a thousand pounds of black powder exploded, the factory is on fire, and somewhere in there is another room full of black powder. Jim says that he’s standing well back from the site.

What the news reports are saying: The initial explosion happened a bit after 1:00 this afternoon, seriously damaging nearby buildings, shaking other buildings blocks away, and filling the air with heavy black smoke. A town spokeswoman, Mia West, said “exploding ammunition” made it impossible for the firemen to get in and fight the fire until around 3:00. Bridge and Gould streets have been closed, 40 homes have been evacuated, and a shelter is being set up at the town office.

The New Hampshire State Emergency Operations Center was activated just before 3 p.m. They’ve pegged the incident at Level 2 on their scale of one to four, which ranges from “normal business” to “major disaster.” New Hampshire Fire Marshal Bill Degnan has confirmed the two fatalities, but says he didn’t know how many other people were injured, or how many people were in the facility at the time.

Reported as being on scene: fire crews from Colebrook and from Beecher Falls, Vermont; state and local police; the Fish and Game Department (a big deal in those parts); the Border Patrol; and the 45th Parallel EMS.

An update from, timestamped 4:38 p.m. EDT:

Rescuers Seek 3 After Explosions Rock Colebrook
Explosions Reported At Muzzleloader Plant

Emergency officials said they are looking for three people who were in a building that exploded in Colebrook on Friday.

Officials said the three were at the MDM Muzzleloader plant when three explosions shook the town just after 1 p.m. Friday.

Officials said the explosion occurred at Black Mag Industries, a subsidiary of MDM Muzzleloaders. The facility makes synthetic gunpowder for certain types of firearms. The material is less explosive than regular gunpowder.

People said they heard the explosions from miles away and saw heavy black smoke coming from the area.

Fewer than 20 people work in the office, according to the fire marshal’s office.

WMUR has a slideshow of the smoke plume. They’re not the best photos of the event. However, if I’m not mistaken, the building in the foreground is Jim and Debra’s local grocery, which is within walking distance of their house.

Update, 5:20 p.m.: a report from inside the debris field

Jim just called. He said the explosions happened around 1315 (1:15 p.m.), when he and Debra were driving downhill — that’s in the direction of the explosion — to go to the hardware store. There were three initial explosions: a big one, a much softer one, and then one so big that it literally moved his car. Jim said the explosions sounded like shellfire.

Apparently today was the day that Black Mag Industries was packing black powder into pellets. The explosions blew the entire back wall off the building, and threw major pieces of equipment into the air. There’s shrapnel lodged forty feet off the ground in trees. The building is still on fire. There were explosives inside the building that have not yet been accounted for. The accident scene’s perimeter is a half a mile across.

The building also held a warehouse and the River of Life Worship Center.

The emergency services there are rigging lights and bringing in cots for emergency personnel, so they expect to be there for a while. Jim says he’s tired and will be a lot tireder before it’s over.

To the list of organizations on scene, add: Pittsburg Fire & Rescue, Grafton County Sheriff, OSHA, the BATF, the Department of Homeland Security, PSNH, Fairpoint Communications, the state police with their helicopter, and representatives from the governor’s office.

Update, 6:30:

Jim called again. The fire is out, the explosives are accounted for, and the firemen are rolling up their hoses, though they’ll be keeping an eye on the building for a while to make sure the fire doesn’t start up again.

The two additional missing persons didn’t exist. They were accidentally generated by earlier reports persisting into later news stories. Two people got out of the building, two didn’t.


Other local reports: Charlie Jordan, editor of the Colebrook Chronicle, reports the story on YouTube.

Vermont’s interviews Charlie Jordan at greater length. Lots of interesting details, including part of the plant “going airborne.”

WMUR has continued to collect photos for their slide show. Last I looked they had twenty-eight of them.

Finally, an anonymous comment posted to the story at

i was on my computer when i thought my apt building was going to fall down from the shakes and blasts i was terrified saw the smoke black filling the sky i am not even a mile away the people in the rite aid came running out one lady almost balling this has been a very frightening day for me as i did not know what to do
Other coverage:

Manchester, NH Union-Leader: Explosion rocks downtown Colebrook. Photos and local detail.
NECN Network: Explosion at manufacturing plant in Colebrook, New Hampshire. More photos; rudimentary story.
Associated Press: Explosion, fire at northern NH gun factory. Standard dehydrated compressed AP version.
Fox News: Emergency Crews Rush to Scene of Three New Hampshire Explosions. Scanty story, but at least it isn’t copied from AP.

[UPDATE—JDM] A second report from Charlie Jordan.

Video … and moreand more from WCAX

Video from WMUR

Video from my front yard by my elder son. The two vehicles which pass by at the very bottom of the screen are two of the three ambulances that responded.

The Colebrook News and Sentinel (the other weekly paper) with some more photos. Some we’ve seen before (the initial explosion, shot from about three miles away), but some we haven’t, including the back of the building while the Beecher Falls VFD personnel are setting up their hoses.

Comments on Explosion in a gunpowder factory:
#1 ::: Dave Trowbridge ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2010, 04:15 PM:

My Y chromosome wants to know what a half-ton of gunpowder looks like when it goes off.

#2 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2010, 04:17 PM:

He also says that he’s standing well back from the site.

Abi, to her kids: "What's the first rule for dealing with emergencies?"
Kids, well-drilled: "Don't become a casualty yourself."

#3 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2010, 04:26 PM:

People forget how dangerous black powder is, just because it's not as dangerous as modern explosives.

The old DuPont works in the Brandywine Valley had over 220 explosions in nearly 120 years.

I hope Jim and the rest of Colebrook and environs has good news soon.

#4 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2010, 04:28 PM:

Dave @1--but does it want to hear what it's like?

#5 ::: Keith Kisser ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2010, 04:37 PM:

Fidelo @3:

Years of watching Myth Busters has taught me that black powder is not something to be trifled with.

Neither is non-dairy creamer.

#6 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2010, 04:39 PM:

Yikes! So glad Jim is okay.

#7 ::: Sherwood ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2010, 05:11 PM:

Thank you for posting that Jim is okay first. Whew!

#8 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2010, 05:20 PM:

A textbook example of news being interesting but not wanting to be too near it (see other thread).

#9 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2010, 05:35 PM:

My W* chromosome doesn't want to know. We doesn't know, and we doesn't want to know. Don't want fish.

#10 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2010, 05:36 PM:

Glad Jim is okay. That must have been one godawful bang.

#11 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2010, 05:37 PM:

Glad to hear Jim is okay. It is one of the hazards of making explosives, after all!

#12 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2010, 05:43 PM:

Dave Trowbridge @1: Hmm, is a half-ton of black powder the equivalent of a small town's Fourth-of-July fireworks display? If so...there's your example.

#13 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2010, 05:46 PM:

Um, yeah, and I'm really, really glad Jim's OK.

#14 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2010, 05:52 PM:

Indeed, it's good that Jim is OK, and performing his accustomed duties.

Tom #11: It is one of the hazards of making explosives, after all!

Indeed, and I'm a little surprised there aren't standard mitigation methods so the whole building doesn't get taken out. I'm imagining putting the main stores inside a tough parabolic chimney with a lightweight roof (all the other roofs being tougher and fireproofed ;-) ), so any blast gets channeled straight up.

#15 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2010, 06:01 PM:

An example of the effects of a large black powder explosion. Almeida was a fortress defending Portugal against the French in 1810, until the magazine exploded. It's also remarkable how clear the layout of the fortifications still is.

#16 ::: Pippin Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2010, 06:02 PM:

For those interested, one of the local newspapers has a youtube video on the event uploaded here.

#17 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2010, 06:07 PM:

Glad to hear Jim's safe!

#18 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2010, 06:10 PM:

I don't understand the distinction between synthetic gunpowder and some other kind.

#19 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2010, 06:23 PM:

I understand the the older DuPont factories had stone walls on three sides, and wood on the fourth (generally the side next to a stream), for just this reason.

I'm glad Jim is okay, and I'm also glad I'm on the other side of the continent.

#20 ::: Martin Wisse ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2010, 06:42 PM:

By sheer coincidence this happens ten years and a day after the Enschede fireworks explosion that flattened a whole neighbourhood about as well as the US airforce used to do in WWII, for those who want to know what a big black powder explosion would look like...

Glad Jim is okay.

#21 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2010, 06:51 PM:

David @14, that sounds a little fancy, but, yes, there are well-understood ways of laying out a factory which works out explosives. Both to limit damage to the factory, and protect the neighbours.

I've not found anything more specific as to location than "Colebrook Industrial Park" (Link to aerial photo) and I've no clue which building is the factory that blew up. But, going by Google Earth, I see no sign of a blast berm anywhere, and the area is damnably close to the centre of town.

It's not that accidents are inevitable, but it doesn't look as though anyone considered the possible consequences.

#22 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2010, 06:58 PM:

Erik @ 18

Real gunpowder absorbs water and is corrosive. The gun needs thorough cleaning after use.

Synthetic powders usually blend a modern smokeless powder with other components to get a burn similar to black powder. But I believe you are recommended to have a higher-pressure proof test than would be acceptable for black powder.

I hope I'm not dangerously wrong.

#23 ::: Chuk ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2010, 07:03 PM:

#9; Xopher, if you have a W chromosome, you're a bird, or possibly a fish or insect although most of those are not smart enough to post to message boards...there was this one cockroach though.

Also, you're female, which I would not have guessed from your name.

#24 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2010, 07:05 PM:

Very good to hear that Jim and Doyle are OK. It's probably also good for the two survivors that Jim was on scene so quickly.

#25 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2010, 07:48 PM:

A moment of silence for the dead. Tip of the hat for the responders.
* * *

Until the rules were recently loosened, model rocketry folks griped that they needed an explosives license to handle large motors made of a composite fuel that was damned hard to light, and had to store it in an explosives magazine . . . but that almost anyone could store 50 lbs. of black powder under their bed.

I once bought a book, advertised in the back of Popular Mechanics, that claimed to show you how to make BP motors. And it did! It was very thorough. A straight out description of the challenges involved. And after reading it I decided I'd have to be nuts to try. Making powder and pounding it into motor casings it way, way dangerous.

#26 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2010, 07:57 PM:

Dave Bell #15: From that link:

It is said that a French shell burst in the courtyard of the castle, igniting a trail of gunpowder left by a leaking barrel. The burning trail of powder led to the door of the town's magazine in the castle where it caused a second barrel to explode. Within seconds of the shell-burst, the entire magazine detonated
Hmm... haven't I seen that routine in a few Looney Tunes cartoons? Is this the "original incident" behind those?

P J Evans #19, Dave Bell #21: Well, in the next few days, I imagine we'll be learning more than we ever wanted to know about the factory's layout and precautions. I do note on reconsideration, that the reports indicated that only part of the building blew up, with much of it still standing. Also that, contra my #14, you might not want to channel the explosion (and associated incendiary material) upwards.

#27 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2010, 07:58 PM:

Chuk @23: Xopher, if you have a W chromosome, you're a bird, or possibly a fish or insect

Wait a moment... ISTR a thread of yore in which Xopher was arguing that birds are dinosaurs, in some sense of taxonomic continuity; tie that in with the recreational predilections of dinosaurs, and suddenly, it all makes sense!

(Dinosaurs became extinct because of too much chocolate. QED. The tar pits of La Brea were a particularly catastrophic tempering failure.)

#28 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2010, 08:01 PM:

Stefan Jones #25: That book sounds like a quite successful work of education. Do you remember the title?

#29 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2010, 08:03 PM:

Yikes, that's much worse than my 2" hail and tornado warning. I'm very glad that Jim is okay; and very sad that two employees aren't.

#30 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2010, 08:17 PM:

#31 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2010, 08:40 PM:

Martin Wisse #20: Yeeks.... the scary thing there is that in both the video at your link (also found here) and the other video I found at the Wiki-page for the disaster, the camera-holders seem to have been actually knocked down by the shockwaves, though apparently neither was killed.

#32 ::: ebear ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2010, 09:04 PM:

Jim and Debra, so glad you are all right.

#33 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2010, 09:08 PM:

Jim #30: So, I take it you're back from the front lines?

#34 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2010, 09:43 PM:

Xopher, if you have a W chromosome, you're a bird, or possibly a fish or insect although most of those are not smart enough to post to message boards...there was this one cockroach though.

youve found me out in my previous life
i was a vers libre bard
and as for being female im not
mehitabel is laughing at me
but toujours gai as she would say

Julie 27: ISTR a thread of yore in which Xopher was arguing that birds are dinosaurs, in some sense of taxonomic continuity; tie that in with the recreational predilections of dinosaurs, and suddenly, it all makes sense!

Actually I was arguing that birds are bloody-well-NOT dinosaurs. And bird sodomy is boring, trust me I'm told.

(Dinosaurs became extinct because of too much chocolate. QED. The tar pits of La Brea were a particularly catastrophic tempering failure.)

Now there's a thing ADAM the Antichrist might have done, had he been raised in California. All that tar oozing up and threatening to devour the parking lot at the Tar Pit Museum becomes chocolate!

But if he'd been raised in California he'd have destroyed the world. Oh, well.

#35 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2010, 09:52 PM:

Yes, I'm getting finished up with my reports. I'll be going home soon.

The store in the foreground in the photo Teresa refers to isn't my local grocery. It's Northern Outlet (which I've recommended before, in the Hypothermia post) where I buy my boots and chemical hand warmers and such. It is, in fact, in easy walking distance from my home (circa 1/2 mile).

In the NECN Network link, the three still photos, in the second photo I'm the person in the reflective vest on the very far right, treating a patient.

The building was formerly a Bose speaker factory, then it became a window factory, after remaining empty for a long time it was tooling up to be a firearms and powder factory. It was scheduled to go on full production with a full crew next week.

More when I get home.

#36 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2010, 10:18 PM:

Jim, exceedingly glad to hear you're OK. Thanks for calling and updating us back at the ranch.

My thoughts go to the families of those who didn't make it.

Keith Kisser @ 5:Years of watching Myth Busters has taught me that black powder is not something to be trifled with.... Neither is non-dairy creamer.


At what passed among my high school for a senior prom, my table at the dinner was the one with kids merrily tossing pinches of non-dairy creamer into candle flames to watch it go sparklesparkle. I was the one who incited this, by recounting an anecdote I'd heard at the "nerd camp" that me and my friend-being-my-date-for-the-night had met at.

A rather large flare went up when someone across the table and down it a few seats forgot the bit about "a pinch."

My parents were the ones looking anywhere but at that table, wearing a sort of determined "no idea who those clowns are, never seen 'em before in our lives" expression.

Good times, good times.

#37 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2010, 10:30 PM:

Xopher @34: Oops. Oh well, I suspect that if Good Omens is ever made into a movie, then it shall come to pass that Adam will have been raised in California.

...I think the previous sentence needs some verb mood/tense/whatnot that unfortunately fails to exist.

#38 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2010, 10:39 PM:

Julie, then please join me in hoping that Good Omens will remain confined to print, and never see the big (or small) screen.

#39 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2010, 10:48 PM:

David Harmon 26:
Oberlin College historians lovingly re-quote an ancient rulebook that says "No student shall burn gunpowder without the permission of the president."

It is said that the reason for this rule was that at one time making gunpowder trails and lighting one end was a popular fad.

#40 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2010, 10:48 PM:

Video and photos of the initial event, from my front yard (thanks, techo-kids!).

#41 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2010, 11:20 PM:

Second report from Charlie Jordan of the Colebrook Chronicle.

Note that he talks about debris at Hughes Road. That's 3/4 of a mile north of my house. The explosion itself was 3/4 of a mile south of my house.

On Teresa's first link to Colebrook, New Hampshire, the building that was affected as the large rectangular building on the west side of the picture, oriented roughly northwest-southeast with roof showing a grey rectangle in the southeast corner. That southeast corner was the site of the explosion.

The road running parallel to the building to its north is Bridge Street (Rt. 26). You'll recall that Le Rendez-vous is on the corner of Bridge St. and Main St.

The road to the west of the building labeled Gould Street (when you click in one level)... is mislabeled. That's actually Bill Bromage Drive. Gould St. is the J-shaped road that's perpendicular to Bridge Street that runs down to the factory/warehouse building.

#42 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2010, 11:28 PM:

I'm really glad you all and your homes are okay.

We had a 'freak' accident here the other night when we had a powerful front come through, bringing lots of lightning and etc. One of the peculiarities of Kansas is that we have ultra-small oilfields, one or two or a few more pumps, that pump their contents into a collection tank that is kind of central to the small oilfield. Well, near Gardner, one of our outlying communities, lightning struck one of those storage tanks, which went "blooie!" (there is also air inside the tanks if they're only partially full....).

I'm sad for the losses, but glad the blast didn't go farther.

#43 ::: MacAllister ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2010, 11:54 PM:

Very glad you're okay, Jim -- thank you for keeping us updated.

#44 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2010, 12:08 AM:

#28: I don't remember the title of the first edition. I lent it to the wrong person. It's often known as "the Teleflite Book."

The new edition is "Amateur Rocket Motor Construction" by David Sleeter.

It is an amazing work, well written with copious photographs and technical illustrations. Sleeter is a true Maker and experimental engineer. The book details his research to find just the right variant of black powder and binder. This involved making batches of powder in a rock polisher, turning them into pellets, and burning them.

And again, even though he's done the hard work, the production of motors is still the work of true devotees. There's a section on extracting some chlorate compound from gopher bombs. While totally legal (until the point where you make black powder . . . you've got a LEUP right?) it's not all that different from Meth Lab activity.

I'd rather pay Estes $7.00 a pack and keep all my fingers.

Ironically, it's safer and cheaper to work with "composite" fuels that are much more powerful than black powder. It's the stuff shuttle strap-ons use.

#45 ::: Lydy Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2010, 12:08 AM:

I'm glad you're ok. Seems like it's been said before, though.

#46 ::: Lisa Padol ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2010, 12:10 AM:

Glad you're okay, Jim. I'm in the shell-shocked-from-a-safe-distance state.

#47 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2010, 12:33 AM:

Teresa has my copy of Volume One of Davis' Chemistry of Powder and Explosives, so I may not have the quote exactly right, but it says something to the effect of "Experts would rather work with a car load of dynamite than a hat full of black powder."

#48 ::: Raphael ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2010, 01:08 AM:

Good to know you're ok.

#49 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2010, 02:20 AM:

In the Union Leader story, in the bottom two still pictures, I'm the one in the lime-green florescent jacket slightly left of center in the top picture. The second picture was taken from Corliss Lane (better known as Hospital Road), on the hill that leads up to the local hospital.

#50 ::: Spiny Norman ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2010, 02:23 AM:

Glad you're o.k., Jim, and thanks for your efforts.

Apparently by coincidence, the chemist Derek Lowe pointed us to this remarkable video today. It's a couple of years old, but it was new to me. Lesson: once a bunch of acetylene is on fire, don't hang around trying to put it out.

#51 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2010, 02:48 AM:

It's that huge building (I was using Google Earth) and they were sharing it with several other companies... This does not look good from the point of view of legal liability: not for the company storing the powder, not for the people managing the "industrial park", and not for any local government bodies that could have had any input on the siting of the plant.

If the estimate of a thousand pounds of powder is correct, this is about half the quantity Guy Fawkes had placed under Parliament.

The Grand Magazine of HMS Victory could store 35 tons of powder, 100lbs per barrel, and about 7.5 tons was used at Trafalgar.

#52 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2010, 04:08 AM:

Julie, Xopher:

Last I heard, the film rights for Good Omens were with Terry Gilliam, he had the blessing of both its parents and workable script, and he was trying to secure funding.

Some idea of how long ago this was may be gained from the report that the studios were unconvinced by his idea of offering Crowley to an actor who'd never headlined a major blockbuster: Johnny Depp.

#53 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2010, 08:04 AM:

re 50: There's a remarkable collection of mayhem filed by the Discovery Channel under "Destroyed in Seconds", but perhaps the other most relevant is rocket fuel plant filmed from a safe distance (maybe). I especially like when the background voice says, "You sure that's all they store in that damn area?"

However, I am not playing the one of the exploding whale.

#54 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2010, 10:50 AM:

Spiny Norman, #50: Wow. I remember that fire, but I never saw anything like that video -- it's like the world's biggest "popcorn without a lid" disaster!

#55 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2010, 11:55 AM:

Spiny Norman @ 50: Great video! I saw similar film when I was in firefighting training, of tankers and canisters and such, on fire (naturally), and the wrong way to fight those fires (up close).

At work, we take our canister safety seriously, although our tanks are CO2 and O2, with an occasional N2. I have no desire to see any rockets propelling themselves across the room or through the building.

#56 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2010, 12:18 PM:

This event adds to the reasons why you should keep go-bags and deployment kits in your home: When the firefighters and cops pound on your door and say, "Get out! NOW!" you don't have a lot of time to pack.

A better copy of that photo of the initial explosion. This was taken from roughly three miles away, at the corner of Piper Hill Road and Trooper Leslie G. Lord Memorial Highway (US Rt 3). That's what a half-ton of powder looks like.

#57 ::: thanate ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2010, 12:33 PM:

I am told that some decades ago my uncle worked in a chemical plant where they had a sign out front proudly proclaiming that it had been some [large # of hundreds of] days since the last explosion. This sounds much more impressive before one learns that they didn't count episodes of "rapid burning" which to the untutored eye were pretty much indistinguishable from explosions.

I'm glad to hear these guys had their explosion before spinning up the plant to full capacity; it sounds like it could have been a great deal worse.

#58 ::: clarkemyers ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2010, 12:52 PM:

I'd be astonished to find any black powder involvement. BlackMag does not frex have any sulfur
Q: What makes BlackMag Powder different from other powders ?

A: BlackMag Powder does not compare to any other powder. BlackMag Powder is safer to handle and transport; and forms considerably less residue, with that residue being both water-soluble and non-corrosive. BlackMag Powder contains significantly more energy, on a weight basis, than black-powder. Also, it does not contain any sulfur, so it does not produce sulfurous acid or sulfuric acid, the familiar “rotten-egg” smell of black powder.

Likely some confusion between safer and safe.

The only powder flare of which I have any personal experience was a piece of the sun as it took down a block.

Agreed people who handle gun powder - mostly (not always) a flammable solid - routinely shudder at black powder - a fairly sensitive explosive.

Fortunately iodine crystals and other such are now highly regulated to protect us all from each other.

Speaking of firefighting, rockets and up close the fire fighters on the Enterprise in 1969 deserve to be remembered.

#59 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2010, 12:54 PM:

I don't know how fascinating most of y'all find this, but I can give you a guided tour of the area you see on Google Earth.

Taking this map as our starting point:

From the west, the wooded area is Mt. Monadnock in Lemington, VT. Then comes VT Route 102 (which is officially River Road, although no one ever calls it that). Moving east, we come to the Connecticut River. The west bank of the river is the New Hampshire state line.

Continuing east, we come to a road marked "Gould Street." This is, in fact, an error. That's Bill Bromage Drive (named after the former First Colebrook Bank president and firefighter, now dead, but still widely and fondly remembered). The buildings along Bill Bromage Drive are light industrial buildings, now empty.

Continuing to the east: the large rectangular building building is the Manchester Manufacturing Building, where the explosion took place. The powder mill and firearms factory was in the south-east corner. The River of Life Worship Center is in the north-east corner. The west side of the building is warehouse space.

To the north, and running north-east, is Gould Street. It's shaped like a backwards letter "L." In the angle of the "L" is an apartment building. To the west and slightly north of the apartment building is a light manufacturing building that holds a sewing-and-embroidery plant.

Farther north, and running north-west/south-east, is Bridge Street. That's primarily residential, with some light industrial, business, and agricultural.

East from the large manufacturing building, across the New Hampshire Central Railroad tracks is Transfer Road and the Colebrook Transfer Station. This is, essentially, the town dump. It's called a transfer station because garbage is compressed there, and transfered to a landfill elsewhere in the state. The transfer station is normally closed on Friday. Department of Public Works also keeps their equipment garages there, and the sand for winter road sanding operations.

Centerline and west on the north face of the manufacturing building where the event took place are loading docks. The square area on the north-east is a parking lot. (See the aerial view here for a perspective shot from the north-east: You can tell this is an old photo because Bill Bromage Drive hasn't yet been built, and because the parking lot is full of cars. The buildings in the right-bottom corner of this picture are also business/light-industrial. Currently they hold an accounting firm.)

To the south-south-east of the manufacturing building, showing multiple looping roads on the Google map, is a sand-and-gravel pit. To the south of the manufacturing building, you see a wooded area, then Brandy Lee Lane. Brandy Lee Lane is residential. What isn't obvious from the overhead view is that the wooded area is a hill; a glacial sand deposit. Brandy Lee Lane is on the reverse slope of that hill from the manufacturing building.

To the south of the sand pit, between Brandy Lee Lane and Hill Avenue, is the C. N. Brown Oil Company, with oil storage tanks and propane storage tanks. Initial reports were that this was also involved, but those reports turned out not to be true.

#60 ::: Suzanne ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2010, 04:11 PM:

Question: did you know that's what was in that building prior to the explosion? (During and after, I'd imagine it was somewhat self-evident that the building contained Stuff That Goes Boom.)

I'm curious because we had a fire here several years ago in a (very old, all-wood) building that housed metal-sculpture students, which included both a full welding shop and a furnace for bronze-casting that had several large propane tanks attached, and my understanding (which could be wrong) was that the local fire department had no idea what was in the building when they got the alarm, and if it hadn't been for a couple of fortuitous things (a firetruck having trouble starting, which had never had trouble before [or since], the fireman who was about to try to knock the door down stepping to one side in prep just as the door blew out) could have been Very Bad for the first people on the scene, and it's made me think about how well-documented/well-communicated dangers like that may or may not be.

Because I'm very glad you're safe, and somewhat afraid to know how much of a crapshoot that is.

#61 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2010, 04:19 PM:

We knew what was in the building.

It had been widely reported in the papers. It's also been reported that there had been a previous incident with explosives at the same location.

Meanwhile, today, the bomb squad is doing controlled burns right now.

#62 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: May 16, 2010, 02:17 AM:

PJ@19, the wimpy wood side of the duPont gunpowder mill design is *always* pointed at the river that powers the waterwheel, and the roof is wimpy and the three stone sides are on the other side, so that when the mill blows up it won't set off the mill next to it or any workers outside. (My current Senator once proposed banning bomb-making information from the internet; such a contrast to my Delaware childhood, learning the finer points of making industrial quantities of explosives safely on elementary-school field trips :-)

My first experience of an earthquake-like event was when a fertilizer plant blew up in New Jersey, across the river and maybe 10 miles away. It wasn't big, but the lamps were shaking.

#63 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: May 16, 2010, 03:28 AM:

Our event (not at our current house, at my parent's house in the country) was that a dumbass with a fence auger drilled into a (whatever-something) high-pressure natural gas line that supplies gas to a depot off of Highway 68 in rural Kansas.

The only reason my parents and sister weren't evacuated was because they had no gas lines to that house. Still, 30 years later, my sister can recall when they managed to shut it 'off'. The roar and the glow at night became natural to an otherwise silent, very dark outdoor environment ...

All that was found of the dumbass was the front of his truck, everything behind the cab had been vaporized. His wife told the authorities what he had set out to do that day. (and to make it really special, Kansas still doesn't require front bumper license plates, just rear ones....)

#64 ::: Ingvar M ::: (view all by) ::: May 16, 2010, 05:52 AM:

David Harmon @ #14:

There are basically two ways of constructing buildings with explosion-mitigation features.

One is a heavy roof, not connected to the walls, but "tied down" with steel loops. Lots of steel loops. Basic idea here is that when something goes off inside, the lifting of thr roof takes out a fair amount of force, the rest of the blast is vented through the cracks formed by the roof lifting.

The second is to build an even heavier roof, connected to the walls, with walls that are designed to split in half, bringing the roof down on the party, should anything explode. This releases more of a blast into the external environment, but MAY keep things from escalating (NB: do not, under any circumstances, use if you have explosives that tend to go off when banged around). It also has the rather nasty tendency to flatten anyone inside the building.

As for blackpowder being unstable, yes it is. I wouldn't want quantities larger than a couple of tea spoons and I wouldn't want it contained in anything stronger than paper. It's heat-, friction- and impact-sensitive. I would not be surprised if it's sensitive to potential differences as well.

#65 ::: guthrie ::: (view all by) ::: May 16, 2010, 06:27 AM:

THis is a video of the experimental reconstruction of the 1605 gunpowder plot:

A tonne of blackpowder (ok so in the case of this thread it wasn't specifically blackpowder that blew up)

INgvar M #64- I well recall a film or two at school and after about fireworks factories and that the mixing/ making up rooms were basically thick concrete walls with thing corrugated iron sheet roofs. That was in England however, and a few years ago, do they have different regs where you are?

#66 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: May 16, 2010, 07:42 AM:

Bill @62, I recall an account of gunpowder production in the CSA, which managed to suggest that the factories they had to build were incredibly safe, through Southern ingenuity. I suspect that what happened is that they were build according to best practice of the time, but I wouldn't rule out some additional good ideas.

I've been reading around, and, because of Federal regulations, actual black powder is used less and less. The substitutes, such as Pyrodex, aren't classed as the same risk, which is why actual black powder is used far less.

The chemistry can be a bit concealed--trade secrets and stuff--but some of the substitutes use sugars rather than charcoal. About half the weight of a black powder charge remains as a solid, which affects fouling, recoil, and the pressures. The substitutes convert more of the mass of the charge to gas. Because black powder is conventionally measured by volume, one of the neat features of Pyrodex is that the same volume gives the same result.

For a long time, black powder was used as a component of ammunition because it was easy to ignite. There'd be pouches of black powder in the charge bags for artillery to make sure the primer flash ignited the main charge. As for the shells... The propellents can be interesting, from a safe distance.

#67 ::: Ingvar M ::: (view all by) ::: May 16, 2010, 08:04 AM:

Guthrie @ #65:

I don't know the regs, per se. One of my uncles was in the "store explosives for the military" biz. From what he told me, the main problem with a loose roof is that they have a NASTY habit of moving at speed and ending edge-on into things.

If it's only piffly amounts of explosives, I guess you could get away with an unattached roof, as long as you have good-enough blast containment to neighbouring cells.

#68 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: May 16, 2010, 08:36 AM:

In the current case, what I've read is that the local product reportedly substituted some kind of citrus extract for the sulfur.

#69 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: May 16, 2010, 09:06 AM:

List of the largest artificial non-nuclear explosions from Wikipedia

Several of these were in the range of several KT of explosives.

#70 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: May 16, 2010, 10:03 AM:

Paula Helm Murray @ 63 ...
All that was found of the dumbass was the front of his truck, everything behind the cab had been vaporized. His wife told the authorities what he had set out to do that day. (and to make it really special, Kansas still doesn't require front bumper license plates, just rear ones....)

I guess he's not in Kansas anymore...

#71 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: May 16, 2010, 10:14 AM:

It's taken a bit of digging, but it looks as though the propellant concerned uses ascorbic acid as the fuel, with a nitrate/perchlorate oxidiser (not clear on precise details of that).

What makes me wonder is that some more recent news reports claim the plant was manufacturing the stuff. Which is likely a bit more risky that storage, or repacking to retail quantities. Somehow, you're physically mixing two distinct chemicals which, together, are an explosive.

It's easy to find descriptions of the corning process in making black powder, and also to find just how dangerous it can be. In England, the law limited the amount of powder that could be ground at one time. And you have to do something like that to get a stable product.

This wouldn't be quite that dangerous, but I can't escape the feeling that so much wasn't even thought of, in planning what the factory was doing.

#72 ::: clarkemyers ::: (view all by) ::: May 16, 2010, 11:21 AM:

#66 - the Iowa class 16" main battery uses a black powder igniter - possibly associated with the 1989 in turret explosion on the Iowa - the turret mostly contained the explosion.

For those who find the black powder directions as by Leslie Fish - good mnemonic - a little sparse both Foxfire 5 and Diderot's encyclopedia have full instructions using what by current standards is primitive equipment.

#73 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: May 16, 2010, 11:26 AM:

That's what I thought I heard. (It was a long time back.)

#74 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: May 16, 2010, 11:33 AM:

Trial By Fire The Forrestal Fire. This one was shown so often in the Fleet that most hands could recite the narration.

One of the destroyers shown pulling alongside is USS Rupertus (DD 851), a Gearing-class FRAM, sister ship to one I served on ten years later.

If you know exactly where to look in the film, you can see LCDR John McCain jumping from his burning aircraft.

Somewhere out there, I'm sure, is a copy of "Accidents Don't Just Happen," a training film that covers the Oriskany, Forrestal, and Enterprise fires.

#75 ::: Dr. Psycho ::: (view all by) ::: May 16, 2010, 11:41 PM:

I remember watching all of those films when I was training in the Navy, in 1981.

#76 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: May 16, 2010, 11:44 PM:

Powder plant explosions always bring back the story of the Atlas Powder Plant Disaster of 1934. My dad, who was 17, had been working on survey crew a mile or so away when they heard the blast; his car was parked at the plant, which was at the end of the road. His father's youngest brother, who was only 21, worked at the powder plant, and both Dad and his father took off running through the brush to find him lying outside the plant, bleeding from massive cuts inflicted by shattered lumber and nails from the building itself; he died in Dad's car as they drove hell-for-leather to the hospital, fifteen miles away.

#78 ::: rea ::: (view all by) ::: May 17, 2010, 12:20 PM:

Read this Saturday, and only a couple of hours later found myself, a complete untrained amateur, dealing with an enormous natural gas explosion that leveled the 4-unit next door to my house. Police and fire took 20 minutes to arrive on the scene. My partner and I sprayed water on the burning ruins from our garden hoses while our neighbors pulled out the survivors trapped in the rubble. Fortunately, we were able to get everyone out alive--the fire was burning completely out of control by the time the professionals arrived, but we had everyone safe by then.

Apparently, the explosion was so large, everyone in town called 911, and the dispatchers couldn't figure out where to send the police and fire, even though we gave the dispatchers the correct street address in our call.

Force of the explosion threw several 2X6's (upstairs floor joists?) end-first throught the walls of our house and garage--fortunately missing my computer by inches.

You never know when you'll find yourself in a life-or-death situation . . .

#79 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: May 17, 2010, 02:02 PM:

rea (78): Yikes! I'm so glad everyone was safe. "Leveled" sounded as if anyone in the building at the time was going to be dead. Kudos to you, your partner, and the neighbors for keeping your heads and doing what needed to be done in what must have been a very frightening emergency.

#80 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 17, 2010, 02:05 PM:

Wow, rea, I'm so glad you're all right and that everyone got out alive. That's awful.

#81 ::: Michael Maggard ::: (view all by) ::: May 17, 2010, 02:37 PM:

A few hundred miles away in Boston Harbor historic Fort Warren, on Georges Island, has an 1863 powder magazine open to the public. A sturdy granite building with a 'light' slate roof it is surrounded by an equally study outer granite wall. The design was explicitly to reflect any explosions skyward (being inside a fort precluded any to-the-side options.) The interior walls of the magazine were wood-lined to prevent any errant scraping of the stone structure resulting in sparks.

A nice photo of the magazine complex (keep in mind this is surrounded by a much larger granite fort):

The on-site plaque describing the magazine complex:

A wonderful teachers guide for visitors to Georges Island/Fort Warren (PDF):
Page 7 has a useful diagram, and the bottom of page 13 begins description of the powder magazine & its fascinating history.

I suspect with all of the materials & process improvements since 1863 a similar design would still be a best-practice when dealing with potentially unstable munitions.

#82 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: May 17, 2010, 02:49 PM:

Woo, Rea!

That is why we do public service preparedness drills!

Everyone made it out okay? You done good, kid.

Is this one yours?

#83 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: May 17, 2010, 02:52 PM:

As far as purpose-built explosives manufacturing-and-storage facilities ... yes. Recall that the last tenant in the space we're talking about manufactured tee-shirts.

#84 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 17, 2010, 03:12 PM:

I meant to say "Go rea and rea's neighbors!" Congratulations! Lives were saved because of prompt action by ordinary people. You're all heroes!

#85 ::: rea ::: (view all by) ::: May 17, 2010, 03:23 PM:

Is this one yours?

Yes--even a picture of me, which I didn't know about. Also, the article makes it sound like I'm shacking up with Mrs. Dominguez, instead of her father, but that's okay!

#86 ::: Byrd ::: (view all by) ::: May 17, 2010, 04:18 PM:

Jim #74

They showed us that film when I was in the apprenticeship program in the Philly yard, too something like 24-28 years ago. The Forrestal came into the yard for a SLEP and I worked on her, too. We had one guy who had been on her when she burned and he said that he would work on her but he would *not* go on the river run to test things when the work was done. I recall that she was also called the "Forest Fire" but not where anyone official could hear.

#87 ::: eric ::: (view all by) ::: May 17, 2010, 05:09 PM:

Good job rea!

I love how the caption to the picture here says that the apartment apparently exploded. It's the allegedly disease. I'd think that they pretty much have the explosion dead to rights, given the debris, the lack of a building where it's supposed to be, and the bits and pieces embedded in other peoples houses.

#88 ::: Lydy Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: May 17, 2010, 05:46 PM:

Wow. Good job, rea. Sorry about the damage to your house and garage.

#89 ::: rea ::: (view all by) ::: May 17, 2010, 06:30 PM:

Good job, rea.

Of everyone in the neighborhood who helped, though, I probably did the least--I let the muscular young men do the "charging into burning buildings and lifting heavy objects" part. :)

#90 ::: Torrilin ::: (view all by) ::: May 17, 2010, 07:01 PM:

Keeping water going to try and contain the fire isn't nothing. Even a small, open air fire can produce pretty nasty results if you inhale too much smoke or get a faceful of vapor.

Everyone involved did a good job coordinating, or there would have been dead people.

#91 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: May 17, 2010, 07:05 PM:

Eric @87 -- Reminiscent of Beyond the Fringe's The Great Train Robbery.

#92 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: May 17, 2010, 07:56 PM:

That's some mess you've got next door, rea! Kudos to you and neighbors for helping out.

Any chance of seeing pictures of the 2 x 4 driven through the wall? Presumably you'll be taking those for insurance purposes anyway.

#93 ::: rea ::: (view all by) ::: May 17, 2010, 09:05 PM:

Any chance of seeing pictures of the 2 x 4 driven through the wall? Presumably you'll be taking those for insurance purposes anyway.

We have some pictures, but no scanner. There is a very good picture of a couple of them in this video, though:

#94 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2010, 08:50 AM:

rea #78: Yikes! Congrats on helping out (not to mention not getting hurt yourself!).

#95 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2010, 02:10 PM:

c wingate 69
I looked at that article and it includes:

Cleveland East Ohio Gas Explosion
On October 20, 1944 Gas Storage tanks at Cleveland Ohio exploded; 1 square mile destroyed; 130 killed; 600 homeless

This event is described from a fictional child's point of view in a book I read once called The Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread.

#96 ::: Bryan Feir ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2010, 03:10 PM:

Paul A. @#52:
Met Terry Gilliam when he was in town promoting Tideland a few years back; he mentioned Good Omens, though he was unsure it would ever get going past the script stage. Which is better than what he said about Watchmen, which he said he gave up on because as far as he was concerned there was no way it could be done as a movie properly and he didn't want to go down in history as the man who ruined Watchmen.

rea @#78 and others:
I was a few kilometers away from the big propane explosion in Toronto two years ago. Woke me up and rattled the windows of the house, even though my house was in enough of a depression that I couldn't see the place. Was not fun.

#97 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2010, 03:59 PM:

For everyone: Inventory and repack your jump bags, and consider your home safety plans.

#98 ::: Arthur D. ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2010, 10:19 PM:

Glad to hear that rea and Jim made it through their respective situations OK.

I don't have a jump bag yet, but I'm working on putting one together. I have one question though - the list recommends AA powered flashlights and radios. Does it make a difference if they're both AAA powered instead?

#99 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2010, 03:51 AM:

Catching up: I am amused at the way one of the articles about the plant refers to how safe the powder is by quoting the HazMat rating it has, 4.1: the same as any other gunpowder.

#100 ::: Doug Burbidge ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2010, 04:39 AM:


AAA batteries store about half as much energy as AA batteries, but cost about the same. So that's the difference: a factor of 2.

Ultimately what matters is whether the particular battery-powered devices you choose have adequate battery life, including the life from spare batteries in your bag.

#101 ::: guthrie ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2010, 05:38 AM:

I am puzzled by how close the building seemed to everything else in town - even sharing the building with a warehouse and worship centre wouldn't be allowed in the UK as far as I can see. Here if you store explosives you have to keep them at least a certain distance from other buildings.

#102 ::: Thena ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2010, 06:43 AM:


America is a strange place. Also (correct me if I'm wrong, Jim) Colebrook is a pretty small town in an area that's both quite rural and in a region of the country renowned for granite-hard stubbornness.

(Neither of which makes gunpowder any less explosive, natch, but risk assessment has subtleties...)

It may have been something like "Eh, I guess it /could/, now that you mention it, but we need business and nobody's using that building. Besides, it probably /won't/ explode, and if it does, well, we'll deal with that when it happens."

#103 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2010, 08:15 AM:

When I was farming it was illegal to store pesticides and herbicides in the same building as food. There were a couple of careful exceptions, tweaks to the definition of "same building": an unbroken internal wall was one of them.

And, every summer, you could go to the local supermarket and put several litres of weedkiller in with your food shopping.

The particular herbicide in the supermarket is one of the least toxic around, but the casual attitude rather scared me. My attitude feels a little reminiscent of the Jewish principles on whether dishes are kosher. Some things are legitimate, but look like a breach. So they're not done because somebody might be led into a dreadful mistake.

(I'm thinking soya milk here.)

It still isn't a smell I can easily ignore--it's the sort of thing that screams to me that something in wrong.

#104 ::: kid bitzer ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2010, 08:17 AM:


hey, c'mon--soy milk doesn't smell *that* bad.

#105 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2010, 08:37 AM:

As far as AA v. AAA batteries -- make your trade offs among size, weight, price, and availability.

The principle is, if you have any battery powered things, they all have to take the same size batteries.

As to what went on with the planning board or zoning or whatever -- I wasn't at the meeting and don't know what the discussion was, and wouldn't like to speculate. I'm certain that questions will be asked by people with the power to compel answers.

#106 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2010, 12:35 PM:

Dave, #103: I have a Jewish friend who occasionally makes sausage biscuits with gravy for breakfast, just as a joke. Of course, she uses beef sausage and non-dairy milk substitute...

#107 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2010, 11:39 AM:

Eric @ 87

A few years back, there was murder in my mother's home-town in which took place in something which was widely reported in newspapers as being 'an alleged massage-parlour';when in fact, what was being alleged was that the establishment wasn't a massage parlour at all but a brothel.

#108 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2010, 02:16 PM:

praisegod @ 107 -- I don't need to insert my rant about the difference between massage and prostitution and he need to take the word "massage" back, do I? Good. As a professional massage therapist, I don't like to have to keep harping on that one....

#109 ::: Bob Rossney ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2010, 06:26 PM:

When I read the headline for this topic I thought, "That's a pretty vivid metaphor." I'm sorry to see it's not, and glad that Jim et al. are OK.

#110 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2010, 02:01 AM:

Tom @ 108:

I don't know: do you? If so, it might be better directed at the editor of the newspaper who came up with the line 'murder in alleged massage parlour' for something which took place in an establishment that advertised itself as a massage parlour, and possibly was; but allegedly wasn't.(I think, that in fact it was on a newspaper seller's billboard that I saw it, so I'm not going to check the internet archivews of the Shropshire Star for it, but it may be there.)

I'd have thought that telling the story as an example of the misuse of the word 'alleged' would indicate both that I grasped the point and that I took it for granted that other people here would. (Also, the fact that I was replying to Eric's point about 'apparently' would have made that contexr clear.)

Since it didn't, I'm sorry I caused offense.

#111 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2010, 02:46 AM:

No offense involved, from you, at all! That was merely my knee jerking, and yes it was quite clear that you know the difference. Other people read here too, and some need it pointed out.

#112 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2010, 12:35 PM:

Tom Whitmore

OK, good. Sorry if I jumped down your throat. I posted my first before going to bed, checked back in the morning while half-asleep and just before rushing out, and thought, in a kind of muzzy panic, that I'd better say something about it before I left or run the risk of having a posse of angry masseurs and masseuses on my back. As it were.

#113 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2010, 02:09 PM:

An early step to clearing up a misunderstanding is saying something about it. No blame.

#114 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2010, 06:54 PM:

For future reference, those who wish to listen live to events in Colebrook can go here:

Hear what the scanner-whackers hear!

Our local dispatch center is KNDS884.

#115 ::: ClarkEMyers ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2010, 02:30 PM:

##98/100/105 - on flashlights I every day carry a pair (2 is 1; 1 is...) of AA Minimag - one at each hand - as both light sources and Kubotons - but for a bugout/call out bag I really really like Surefire (or equal) with their mostly less common and much pricier batteries (genuine and so labeled are good) but vastly better and more assured performance.This assumes resupply and not TEOTWAWKI

The money may be better spent elsewhere for most people considering alterative costs for much of the Surefire line.

#116 ::: Arthur D. ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2010, 02:54 PM:

#115 - I've done some looking into flashlights, and most of the advanced lines like Surefire, Streamlight and Fenix have models that use AA and AAA in addition to models that use rarer batteries or watch batteries.

#117 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2010, 03:37 PM:

The story at the Colebrook News and Sentinel. Look quick; it'll be gone next week, replaced by that week's news.

#118 ::: Mark ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2010, 04:50 PM:

Such thorough reporting there. I'm a little surprised they didn't get a quote from the quick-thinking and dedicated EMT who was first on scene. Must be a remarkably humble and good-natured fellow.

#119 ::: kid bitzer ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2010, 05:34 PM:

#115, #116,

have a look at the quark line from 4sevens. excellent flashlights, and they lego with a variety of heads and battery-tubes to eat a variety of batteries. the same head can run on a single AA, a pair of AA's, a single 123, a 14500 (3.7 volt li-ion in a AA form-factor) or an 18650 (like a pair of 123's, but lower voltage and great capacity). there's a high-voltage head that runs on a pair of 123's, a pair of 14500's, or the 18650--a bit brighter, but eats more batteries.

there also turning out some beautiful 'minis'--they don't lego the way that the full-size quarks do, but they sure are tiny!

my favorite is the AA form factor--i use it with 14500's in normal times, so that i'm getting about 170 lumens on high, down to less than one lumen on "moon-light mode" (lasts for over a week). if i can't get access to 14500s, then i can always use AA's, and still get 90 lumens on high (as compared to 60 lumens for a surefire 6p or g2 using 2x123).

and, no, i don't work for quark. i sure seem to send them a lot of money, though.

#120 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2010, 05:37 PM:

Pray note that there are no quotes for attribution from any police, fire, or EMS personnel other than official spokespersons.

#121 ::: Annalee Rocwood (nee Flower Horne) ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2010, 05:48 PM:

In Richmond, Indiana, where I went to college, there was a gunpowder explosion at a sporting goods store in 1968. It killed 41 people, injured 150 more, and destroyed several city blocks.

Depending on who you talk to, either the gunpowder ignited a natural gas leak, or a natural gas leak ignited the gunpowder. Big boom.

On quoting rescuers: at my dad's station, if you get quoted in the paper, you owe your whole shift dinner. Posed photograph, and you owe them lobster.

#122 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: May 25, 2010, 08:53 AM:

Annalee Rocwood @ 121: That's an excellent way to prevent people from just blabbing to anyone without making it seem nasty or condescending. My CERT training indicated that only the Public Affairs Officer is authorized to speak to the media, although in this populous area, it makes sense to restrict the flow of information to one person, or one office. In a small town, it's a little different.

#123 ::: Annalee Rockwood ::: (view all by) ::: May 25, 2010, 10:49 AM:

Ginger @121: When I was in training for a different kind of public safety volunteer gig, they told us that it wasn't so much about not wanting us to speak for the organization as it was about getting our work done. It's pretty difficult to give a patient, patron, or supervisor your undivided attention and spell out your name for a reporter at the same time.

And yeah, sure, there are all kinds of scenarios in which one can work and talk at the same time, but in the interest of getting people to focus on the task at hand, and keeping reporters out from under foot while they do it, it's easier to just say "Hey, don't talk to the media."

#124 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: May 25, 2010, 11:25 AM:

Annalee, Ginger

Of course, I'd imagine the severity of the second sanction differs rather a lot depending on whether you are in Maine or, say, Nebraska...

#125 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: May 25, 2010, 11:30 AM:

Annalee @ 123: Sure -- there's also the clarity of the message (preventing confusion) and keeping civilians away from the scene, plus they don't want people saying the wrong things at the wrong time. It's all too easy to get caught up and say something that you mean one way but gets interpreted another way, and then the controversy explodes over the whole thing.

praisegod barebones @124: In Maryland, it would probably become a crab dinner.

#126 ::: Thena ::: (view all by) ::: May 25, 2010, 05:16 PM:

@lobstah - In Maine, the emphasis would be on 'buy' lobstah as opposed to 'serve' lobstah.

(The vast majority of people who buy lobster dinners around here are From Away. Faced with the prospect of Lobster for a Dozen, I'd be down at the local seafood distributor with an icechest and digging out the big stockpot and the gas burner...)

#127 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2010, 05:21 PM:

Back when I lived in New Jersey, any time a house or building exploded some policeman would promptly tell the media that it was a meth lab. Only later might somebody else tell them that it was something wrong with the gas lines or furnace or whatever. Some of the news reporters figured this out and didn't report causes until they got the real story, but most just printed it anyway. I much prefer the professionalism of Annalee's dad's station.

#128 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2010, 12:40 PM:

I'm just admiring that phrase there -- "any time a house or building exploded". Like it's a fairly frequent occurrence. (We've been having some trouble with gas lines accidentally drilled through sewer lines locally; this becomes problematic when people later clean out the sewer line....)

#129 ::: Carol Kimball ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2010, 02:29 PM:

#124 ::: praisegod barebones
Of course, I'd imagine the severity of the second sanction differs rather a lot depending on whether you are in Maine or, say, Nebraska...

In Nebraska it would be treating at the Red Lobster chain.

#130 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2010, 02:39 PM:

But Carol, we specified seafood.


#131 ::: Carol Kimball ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2010, 04:16 PM:

Right you are! I've given up trying to explain this to my mother.

#132 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2010, 05:08 PM:

Great. Now I find myself thinking of Irwin Allen's lobster men.

#133 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2010, 05:16 PM:

They don't know how to find the sewer pipe first?

(There are businesses that exist just to find underground utility lines, so this sort of thing doesn't happen.)

#134 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2010, 05:42 PM:

P J Evans@133: I forget exactly what happened with the locator service to make it end up this way. I think it was that they were off a few inches in depth and went through rather than over the sewer pipe -- and the modern horizontal borers won't notice anything as trivial as a cast-iron sewer pipe in the their path.

#135 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2010, 05:47 PM:

PJ Evans #133:

Perhaps I should bring up my recent experiences, fortunately anticlimactic. Several weeks ago, over a year after our own house was completed, our mutual builder began constructing forms for a house to be built next door. (Finally!) On the day they began to use the trencher (looks rather like a chainsaw connected to a Bobcat) starting at seven a.m. sharp to dig a couple of feet deep just inboard of the wooden forms, I noticed that the bathwater didn't seem quite so hot as usual. At dinner time, I finally got round to noticing there wasn't any cooking gas. Investigation revealed that the trenching guy had cut through the yellow plastic pipe, about a foot and a half down, that was the stub off our gas line and that was several feet north of where it was supposed to be. The predictable explosion hadn't happened because there was an automatic pressure-drop shutoff on the line.

The resultant invasion by the gas company and two Special Operations engines from the local fire station, complete with battalion commander and lights but no sirens, was ... interesting. Lots of people stood round talking, we got our gas back, the stub got capped, nobody got blown up, and there is now a lot of yellow paint several feet on our side of the property line.

So even if you think you know where stuff is, contractors can screw up (and pay for the gas company's efforts).

The gas company guy told us that the contractors frequently try to hide their screwups; he's seen them go to the extremes of trying to bury things like that in concrete.

#136 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2010, 06:30 PM:

It sounds like they didn't know how deep the sewer line was - if it was old pipe, that might not be on the records. (Around here, the gas mains are generally about 3 feet down, and usually above the sewers, because gas really doesn't like getting wet. The larger ones are more like 5 or 6 feet down, and you really don't want to hit one of those.)

I remember coming home from work one day and discovering the fire department at the end of the block with some very large fans, where the guy who lived there had tried to pull a tree stump and had broken his gas line. The gas company really, really, prefers having people call first to find out where and how deep (and here they run a pipe locater on it - having someone dig through a main is messy, if not worse).

#137 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2010, 09:17 AM:

We put sewer pipes somewhat deeper than that, to make sure they don't freeze.

#138 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2010, 10:00 AM:

Where I used to live, there were sewer pipes down both sides of the hill the street ran over. And somebody had joined all the dots marking manhole covers in the plan. So, when a new house was built, just where the gap was, the builders employed some interesting language.

Luckily, somebody told the developer at the bottom of another hill before he spent a lot of money. That nice, convenient, sewer was pumped, and so under pressure, to deliver the sewage from the next village to the local processing plant. I'd heard the pressure when pumping was about 50psi, which sound plausible for the height differences.

I think he would have had a backflow problem.

#139 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2010, 11:24 AM:

Dave, that's about the pressure my local gas mains run at. (Maybe a little higher; I think we try to keep it around 45psi for 'medium' pressure.)

#140 ::: clarkemyers ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2010, 10:46 PM:

Explosion, Fire Rock Bend's Nosler Bullets Plant

Associated with a ballistics testing tunnel. Maybe unburned powder acccumulated forward of the firing line in the tunnel - possibly a handloading area but again a surprisingly big explosion.

#141 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: July 01, 2011, 10:48 AM:

US Labor Department resolves OSHA citations against Black Mag LLC
for Colebrook, NH explosion that killed 2 workers

In the resolution papers, Sanborn agrees that he will not conduct, establish, own or manage by himself, with or through others, any current or future business that is covered anywhere under OSHA's explosives or process safety management standards if that business employs workers or independent contractors. Additionally, he will have no involvement in any enterprise that has employees if it is located within 1,000 yards of another business that is covered under OSHA's explosives or process management safety standards.

#142 ::: praisegod barebones sees SPAM ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2011, 05:31 AM:

here too

#143 ::: Tom Whitmore sees offensive spam ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2012, 08:23 AM:

More weird anti-semitism,,,

#144 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2012, 10:45 AM:

Criminal Charges in Colebrook Explosion That Killed Two (NPR)

Coos County Attorney Robert Mekeel says a grand jury has indicted Craig Sanborn the owner of the Black Mag plant in Colebrook.

He faces manslaughter and negligent homicide charges for an explosion that killed Jesse Kennett and Donald Kendall.

A third man was badly injured.

The indictments came down late Friday.

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