Buildings Leveled, 58 People Killed
Debris was propelled as far away as Rocker, four miles to the west.
Butte Police Officer James Steinborn was walking his beat shortly before 10 p.m. on January 15, 1895, when he spotted flames coming from the Kenyon-Connell Commercial Company warehouse. He rushed to fire call box 72 on the corner of Utah and Iron Streets and alerted the fire department.
Fifteen firefighters hurried to the warehouse, where a fire was burning in the northwest corner. By the time firefighters arrived a crowd had gathered. There was a shouted warning of explosive powder in the warehouse and surrounding buildings, but the firemen were assured there was none. In fact, tons of dynamite were illegally stored in the warehouse.
Firefighters went to work putting out the blaze. There was a small explosion inside the building, causing the men to fall back. After deciding all was safe, Chief Angus Cameron ordered the men to resume their positions. Within moments the first major explosion occurred, killing 13 firemen and nearby spectators. Others were knocked to the ground, some losing consciousness. Concerned citizens came to help, not realizing the fire had jumped to the Butte Hardware Company warehouse, which also illegally housed massive amounts of dynamite. Within minutes, the dynamite exploded in the second warehouse.
The explosions threw rabble heads (six-inch long pieces of iron placed around dynamite to prevent it from being ignited by a stray bullet), sawblades, and other shrapnel across the city, with some projectiles striking and killing people blocks away from the site. Fifty-eight people died as a result of the fire and subsequent explosions.
The landscape, of course, was forever changed that night. The Kenyon-Connell and Butte Hardware Company warehouses are gone. The space is now vacant or occupied by buildings constructed after the explosion, such as the Great Northern Railway depot and the Christie Transfer and Storage warehouse.