Remembering “The Blast” that shook Roseburg in 1959

ROSEBURG, Ore. – Sixty-one years ago Friday, 14 people died and dozens more were injured after a massive explosion in the heart of Downtown Roseburg.

“When that thing went off it just felt like someone just picked that house up and shook it,” said Dale Greenley.

He was just 13 years old in the early morning hours of August 7, 1959 when it felt like a bomb was dropped on Roseburg. He was two miles away from the blast.

“I [sat] upright in bed and right through my window, it was at an angle. There was this big orange column where white and red shoots [were] coming out out of it and a big mushroom coming at the top,” said Greenley.

While his family was okay, others weren’t as lucky. Fourteen people died and 57 more were injured.

“There were a lot of people injured, poor Mercy Hospital and Douglas Community Hospital they were overflowing with a lot of people,” said Greenley.

Phone lines and radio stations in town were down for over a day. That only led to rumors flying around town.

“I remember my dad standing on the porch and said ‘You know if the Russians did have that bomb they wouldn’t have wasted it on Roseburg,” said Greenley.

It all started that day with a fire alongside Gerretsen Building Supply in Downtown Roseburg. As firefighters put out the early morning fire, they weren’t aware that a truck parked nearby was filled with tons of dynamite and ammonium nitrate.

When it exploded, the blast that destroyed 8-city blocks and damaged another 30 blocks.

The freak accident, Greenley says now, could have been much worse.

“Thankfully, it was 1 o’clock in the morning. If that would have happened earlier in the day there would have been a lot more people involved,” said Greenley.

Last year, Greenley put together a 60th anniversary special edition for the Douglas Co. Historical Society’s Quarterly Umpqua Trapper sharing stories of other Roseburg resident during that time.

Click HERE for more information on the Douglas Co. Historical Society.

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