McKee refinery fire

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The McKee refinery fire on Sunday, 29 July 1956 was a severe fire-related mass casualty event, killing 19 firefighters.[1][2] The fire is considered to have the fourth (the September 11 attacks being first) most casualties of fire fighters in the United States for a single fire event.[3] Their names are engraved at the firefighters' memorial on the grounds of the Texas state capitol. Another memorial is on the grounds of the Moore County courthouse.

The refinery, located seven miles from Sunray, Texas, included a spherical tank containing half a million gallons of pentane and hexane. Vapors escaped from the tank and migrated downhill toward other installations. The vapors ignited, probably near an asphalt plant and travelled back toward the tank. There the flames consumed the escaping vapors, forcing firefighters to use water to cool nearby tanks to prevent further spread.

The volunteer fire crews from nearby Sunray and Dumas were fighting the fire in a conventional manner while the decision was made to reduce the amount of liquid in the burning tank. This increased the volume of the tank filled with explosive vapors. A few minutes before seven in the morning, an hour after the blaze began, the tank ruptured as the remaining fluid in the tank boiled, increasing the gas pressure past the bursting point.[4]

Sixteen firefighters died at the scene; three more perished later succumbing to burns. An additional thirty-two people, firefighters and sight-seers were injured.[5] The blast ignited three additional storage tanks. The fire overwhelmed the resources available and was allowed to burn itself out overnight.


  1. ^ Anton Riecher. "A Small Texas Town Honors Those Lost". Sunray. Retrieved 13 April 2010. 
  2. ^ John Hall (2003). "KEY DATES IN FIRE HISTORY". NFPA archives. NFPA. Retrieved 13 April 2010. 
  3. ^ Anton Riecher. "A Small Texas Town Honors Those Lost". Sunray. Retrieved 13 April 2010. 
  4. ^ David White. "The more things change". NFPA archives. IFW International Fire World. Retrieved 14 April 2010. 
  5. ^ John Troesser (2010). "History in a Pecan Shell". Texas Escapes Online Magazine: Travel and History. Retrieved 14 April 2010. 

Coordinates: 35°57′21.28″N 101°53′11.49″W / 35.9559111°N 101.8865250°W / 35.9559111; -101.8865250