From the Hermiston Herald published Thursday, March 23, 1944:
Six persons lost their lives as a result of a terrific explosion about 9:30 Tuesday night at the Umatilla Ordnance Depot when a quantity of bombs stored in one of the igloos exploded. One woman and five men, all civilian employees, were killed in the only major disaster at the Ordnance Depot here since its construction about three years ago. The blast was so terrific that, although it did not cause any other damage of consequence, it was felt as far away as Lewiston, Idaho and other distant points.
The victims of the explosion were: Miss Alice Wolgamott, 20, formerly of Curtis, Nebraska where her mother resides, but since employed at the depot had lived here with her sister and brother-in-law, Mr. and Mrs. Peterson.
Kenneth L. Fraser, 40, of Irrigon, leader of the crew. He is survived by his widow and four children, two are sophomores at Irrigon High School and two are in the grade school there.
Lance A. Stultz, 40, of Hermiston, residing in the Cox Addition. He is survived by his widow and one child.
Hiram Cook, 26, of Hermiston, survived by his widow and two children. They had resided with his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Melvin Cook, in recent months.
William Sanders, 30, Rt. 2, Hermiston, survived by his widow and four children, all preschool-age.
Harry Sever, 33, Ordnance, survived by his widow and two children.
Outside the above victims, no one was injured in the worst tragedy that has ever struck this little community.
Colonel A.S. Buyers, commanding officer at the Umatilla Ordnance Depot, has officially announced various facts of information since the blast that vary greatly from some of the numerous rumors which usually follow this type of catastrophe. Among these are the following:
Only one igloo exploded and definitely only six persons were killed from the blast. No one else was injured.
Very little other damage was done about the post by the gigantic blast. Although several windows were broken in the area, no damage was done to the other igloos (U.S. Army Engineers are receiving considerable mention for their planning and locating of the various igloos, to prevent further blasts by nearby igloos. The value of the sandy conditions of the soil which tends to kill concussions has been proven).
The igloo, which was used principally for the storage of huge bombs, such as 2,000-pound “blockbusters” used in aerial bombing, contained only a partial capacity of bombs.
An investigation of the explosion is underway by U.S. Army officers and pending its report no further information is available as to the exact cause of the explosion.
There is no knowledge of any sabotage connected with the explosion.
Some fear that workers might prove jittery and reluctant to go back to work was relieved when practically all employees today proved “good soldiers” and today operations are back to normal.
The explosion caused considerable excitement in the surrounding territory. Windows were smashed here and there and other minor damages resulted but as a whole major damage was confined to the igloo and its contents.
Several interesting stories are being told about the blast. Workers state that as a rule each crew is composed of eight members but apparently two of the crew were cleaning up the freight car after a shipment. At least, only six men were in the igloo at the time of the explosion. Miss Wolgamott had just driven to the scene by truck.
The explosion was so terrific that the entire roof of the igloo and a portion of the floor was shattered to bits. Several theories have been advanced by workers as to the cause of the blast but none are printed as facts. Among these are that it might have been a defective bomb, some say a bomb might have been dropped “just right,” and still others say it might have been something else.
However, a thorough investigation is being held and some announcement may be made later. This much is known, however, that extreme precautions have always been taken to avert such explosions and the entire area was placed under strict military rule after the blast.
In Hermiston, Victory Square and Ordnance, as well as Echo, Stanfield, Umatilla, Irrigon and other places where families of U.O.D. workers reside, the night was a long one until word was received that their loved ones had escaped injury.
Several freakish instances of damage were found the next morning. Directly across the highway at Ordnance, the merchandise had been knocked from the shelf but no windows were broken. In many cases doors were blown in, and in several instances the casement went with the door. In Hermiston where the blast was felt quite heavily, in many instances residents at first thought that their stoves had blown up except for the severity of the shock.
The theory that concussion travels in waves was also proven correct because that shock was not as severe near Ordnance as it was several miles away. A check up of broken windows also revealed that the damage was very spotty and at times skipped several miles. That it traveled far is another certainty. At Spokane a seismograph registered a “very slight” earth disturbance.
Another item that traveled fast is news. The Herald office was swamped with calls Wednesday from anxious relatives far and near. It appeared that the farther the news went, the greater was the damage done. One resident of Pasco stated over the phone that “Hermiston had been leveled.”
It is hoped that in spite of the great tragedy, everyone will contribute much to the war effort and that activities will not only continue on schedule but will accelerate because of the sacrifice.