PART 5: DOXOL - We Need Ice - The Kingman BLEVE True Story
Updated: Aug 10, 2022
This BLOG contains sensitive and sometimes graphic details, information and testimonials relating to burn injuries, burn victims, death, disaster survivors and PTSD. Reader discretion is advised.
Want to Listen to this True Story in the WE NEED ICE Podcast?
Listen on: Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Amazon Music, Audible, Stitcher, iheart Radio
Welcome back to the mini-series, “We Need Ice – Explosion on the Railroad.” Just a reminder, this story is best consumed in episode order. So, if you’re here for the first time, yay, I’m so glad to have you. But, I urge you to start from one and catch up. OK.
Last episode was… a heavy one. I found it appropriate to highlight the lives taken by the ’73 BLEVE and the community’s collective grief before getting into today’s topic.
Today, we’re going to dive into the “Doxol” situation. You recall Doxol was the industrial plant the deadly propane belonged to. And you probably recall that I left you guys last episode on a little cliff hanger about an article I'd found in an old Mohave Miner newspaper.
Well, without further ado, I’m holding that article right now.
So let’s get into it.
Thursday, August 30th 1973 is the date marked on this paper and it reads: “An attorney representing Doxol Propane has responded to questions asked by the minor staff about the circumstances related to the fire and explosion in Kingman on July 5th. Phillip A Robbins of the Phoenix law firm of Robins green O'Grady and Abbuhl attended the inquest conducted by justice of the peace Clyde McCune last week.
While in Kingman, he explained to the minor that litigation will probably resolve some of the answers to the questions raised, but that he would answer the questions posed on July 26th, as best he could, and that the questions had been raised before any of the lawsuits had been filed.
QUESTION: Why was the tank car and demurrage standing in the hot sun for so long a period before being unloaded?
ANSWER: Attorney Robin said that a railroad tanker car is considered to be a suitable type storage unit assuming it is in good condition. He explained that there is no way of knowing when the two large storage tanks at Doxol yards will be depleted of fuel and need replenishing. The fuel is ordered out of Los Angeles area and is stored in a tanker car until the storage yard tanks need to be. The storage yard tanks apparently did not need refilling until the day it was unloaded.
QUESTION: Why was the tank unloaded in the middle of the day, rather than in the evening?
ANSWER: Attorney Robbins said that only one person Marvin Mast, the manager of the local Doxol Propane installation, could have answered this question. Mast was killed in the explosion on July 5th. However, attorney Robbins explained that if a tank car is in good condition and the safety mechanisms are functioning properly, that propane fuel can be transferred from one tank to another, no matter what the temperature might be."
This news piece isn’t what you’d call a “deep dive.” But it does attempt to address some questions I think we’ve all been wondering about. Why WAS the tanker sitting exposed to the harshest of elements for so long and why DID the task of transferring the gas fall in the mid-day scorching heat? Overall, I’m satisfied with the answers given. Although a little vague, it makes sense. I mean, accidents happen, and this article makes it sound like there was no deliberate negligence on Doxol’s part.
Nonetheless, responsibility for such a devastating event like this one cannot be skirted. We know this well today. Amongst all the scandals and crime and natural disasters occurring and being packaged in news stories, editorials and talk shows for public review, there’s always the 64-thousand dollar question: Who is at fault? Someone has to pay and especially when lives are lost.
But if the “system” has taught us anything, it’s that nothing is processed quickly. Ideally, the victims would be promptly compensated but we’re talking about a large number of injured people and affected families. Thankfully, a Burn Fund was initiated , and donations assisted the victims while proper investigations were performed and insurance claims handled.
An update regarding the Burn Fund is printed in a Mohave Miner issue from July 26th 1973, “Donations of 66,374.81 have been received for the Kingman Burn Fund, WR, AKA Bud Farrell, Vice President of the Valley National Bank reported this week. A communitywide committee has been formed to handle the funds which began coming in soon after the tragic results of the explosion and fire of July 5th became known to local residents and interested persons from Arizona and other states. The monies will be used to assist families of those who have died or were burned."
While charity provided immediate monetary relief for Kingman, research into the BLEVE and the Doxol plant continued.
Another article published on July 12th touches on that process with the headline, “Explosion Investigation Begins, Problem of Oil Storage Talked.” It reads… “The possibility of a faulty valve is being investigated in connection with the explosion of a propane railroad tanker car last Thursday, which killed three persons instantly.
With six other persons now dead as the result of burns suffered, the 30,000 gallon tanker was fitted with special valves designed to blow off pressure in the event of fire. State Fire Marshall, Robert J. Ross, said the accident was the worst firefighting disaster in Arizona.
Fire chief, Charlie Potter said this week that the investigation is continuing and that the cause of the explosion has not been determined. Assistant State Fire Marshall, Ringel, was in Kingman on Friday leading the investigation. It was reported that other state agencies and a federal agency have joined in the investigation.
George Dempsey, Executive Director of the Arizona Corporation Commission said a federal investigator was called in to start piecing the car back together. We won't really know what happened. Until his investigation is complete. Sections of the tanker were blown up to a quarter mile away in the area as depicted in photographs, taken at the site and appearing elsewhere in this issue.
Assistant State Fire Marshall, Ringel, interviewed firemen and eyewitnesses in seeking to recreate what happened at the time of the explosion. An eyewitness saw a V-shaped tongue of flame shoot 50 to a hundred feet in the air and seconds later witnesses reported the tanker was enveloped in a fireball that rose 200 feet. Over pressure in the tank was indicated Ringel said during the preliminary investigation.
Ringel emphasized that the Kingman Fire Department was apparently following the proper procedure in dealing with the fire. Chief Potter said Monday that the fire was handled in the proper manner, exactly as the fireman had been trained. Everything that had to be done was done and no one backed away from it, he said."
Kind of an eerie statement isn’t it? "No one backed away from it." Explosion fighting protocol has drastically changed since the ’73 BLEVE, but back then in the line of fire WAS protocol.
I’ll say this, from my own research, I’m unable to be overtly critical of the Doxol company and their recovery efforts. It seems to me they were advised well in their handling of the BLEVE aftermath. I find several articles referencing a “no push-back” approach to claims and settlements. I’ll quote one now. “Doxol Propane company has arranged for underwriters… all bills are going to be paid.”
So again, reading these news updates from 50 years ago, I don’t find anything nefarious surrounding Doxol’s responsibility to the propane or tanker as well as in their legal ramifications after the ’73 BLEVE. At least it sounds like Doxol’s post BLEVE plan was to provide relief to the victims quickly avoiding as much process and paperwork as possible.
Still, the BLEVE disaster that occurred in Kingman Arizona, 1973, is commonly referred to as, “The Doxol Explosion.” Regardless of the tragedy being accidental, even a freak of nature some may say, the Doxol company’s name will remain in association with 12 premature deaths and the the loss of a town’s innocence.
I’m reminded of another name. Josh Hamilton. Ring a bell for anyone out there? Fellas? Well, let me explain…
It’s July 7, 2011 and a father and his 6 year old son are attending a baseball game in Arlington, TX. Oh, and Coincidentally, the father and Ranger fan, Shannon Stone, was a 39-year-old firefighter from Brownwood, Texas. That’s neither here nor there to this side story – but I just wanted to make that connection. It’s the second inning of the game between the Texas Rangers and the Oakland A’s. The father and son pair are enjoying the sport from their first row seats above and behind the Rangers' scoreboard. A ball is hit into foul territory and outfielder, Josh Hamilton intends to retrieve it to continue play. When Shannon realizes this major league ballplayer looks to be within earshot or eyeshot of him and his boy he sees what he believes is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Shannon begins to call down to Josh, waving his hands erratically, pleading with him to pitch the ball into the stands, obviously wanting the ball as a memento of this day and the hobby he shares with his son. Somehow, through the crowd’s chatter and cheers, in a most unlucky stroke of luck, Shannon does get Josh Hamilton’s attention. The father’s request appeals to the ballplayer’s sensitivities and Josh obliges. In one effortless movement, the professional tosses the baseball to the man as his son stands next to him jumping up-and-down, unable to contain his excitement. What happens next is literally recorded in sport’s history. The video re-play documents a devastating loss but I don’t mean in the game of baseball. The camera pans over the crowd and rests in the stands where Shannon is shown, arm out in sweet anticipation of catching Josh’s pitch. As the ball floats through the air approaching his position, Shannon leans over the guardrail to catch it. He wants this so badly. The adrenaline in his upper body is raging and Shannon looses his footing falling head first over the rail plunging 30 feet to his death as his young son and shocked fans witnesses every painful second. The gasps from the crowd are audible in the video re-play, followed by pin-drop silence.
Of course, It's been universally concluded that Josh Hamilton had no ill-intent behind this fateful pitch to a devoted fan and loving father. Quite the opposite is agreed upon. But, good intentions notwithstanding, the name Josh Hamilton will always be in association with “the pitch” and the freak fall of Shannon Stone which, in an instant, robbed a 6 year old boy of his father and widowed his mother.
I think you now understand the parallels in this story and the Doxol situation. Even at the direct fault of no one, misfortunes like the Doxol explosion and Josh Hamilton’s pitch are remembered and referred to by NAME.
If you haven’t made it over to weneedice.com yet, you’ll want to do that. I’m sure you can imagine the insane amount of internet searches I’ve executed in preparation for this podcast. I’ve gathered a lot of photos, data and news clippings from the ’73 BLEVE and you can check them out there at weneedice.com. Since we’ve been on the Doxol topic, there’s a particular piece of evidence you might want to view, a video. And, it must be said, this video is always accompanied with a caption or note like this one from a reddit post, and I quote, "Only known video of the 1973 Kingman, AZ Doxol BLEVE. One of the worst firefighter tragedies in the US, caused by the failure of a train car carrying propane heated by impinging flames."
The video is not of HD quality, but that doesn’t prevent it from making its statement. It’s all there… the spewing flames above tank car #38214, the eruption of the BLEVE and enormous mushroom cloud enveloping the town of Kingman, and then, there’s Doxol. In several panned out shots you get a pretty clear visual of the plant and the industrial terrain so adjacent to the residential town of Kingman I just as soon call it a blended landscape. The footage follows route 66 where earie scenes come into to the viewfinder as he’s driving along. Doxol branded trucks and gas storage tanks parked on the property, giant pieces of metal shrapnel from the exploding tanker blocking the road, and dilapidated structures which were just moments before standing strong, like the Philips gas station. An old-timey ambulance van races towards the disaster passing directly in front of the camera. It’s something else I tell ya, an experience for sure. So, before you open up tiktok or social media for another mindless round of scrolling housewives, drunk fails and puppies, join me at weneedice.com. I’ll see you there.