Monday, May 10, 2021
May 10, 2021

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Everybody Has a Story: Neighboring warehouse explosive

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My parents owned Starr’s Motel in Portland, right next to a fireworks warehouse. Every year we got free sparklers and boomers. Fun for a kid.

Our house was across a parking lot from the motel. My grandfather had just added a big south-facing porch to the house and it still smelled like new wood and paint.

I was 10 years old on July 5, 1958, when there was a huge explosion at the warehouse. My bedroom was right across from the warehouse, alongside a little alley, and the ceiling collapsed around my head.

The next thing I was aware of was my mom grabbing my arms and we were running through the house, through the office, across the new porch, down the stairs and across the parking lot. Running barefoot around fireworks, fires, glass from exploded motel windows. Mom had me stand in a garage to protect me from our house exploding and sending wood planks, roofing and metal shrapnel flying all around. She ran around banging on doors to make sure guests got into their cars and away.

The sky was bright from the fire, oranges and yellows and reds, like a psychedelic daylight. Plus the smell of gunpowder and big pieces of burning wood all around us. We huddled in the garage. Mom’s feet were cut to shreds by the glass and I was bleeding from a head wound.

We huddled in the garage, up against the side walls to avoid flying debris, and waited for the sirens of ambulances. Mom took my hand and we ran to Powell Boulevard where EMTs grabbed us and threw us in the back of the ambulance. Mom’s feet were in bad shape, and I had bled all over my pajama top, so we were off to the hospital. The Red Cross provided housing for us at a different motel as ours was rebuilt.

We couldn’t find my dad. Only later did we find out he had been blown out of the house. He was found in shock and we met up at the hospital.

A little girl that lived behind the warehouse died and 30 people were injured. I wasn’t seriously injured, just bled a lot and got a few stitches. Dad was okay, but he had suffered a series of strokes the year before, and I don’t think he ever recovered from the shock.


Everybody Has a Story welcomes nonfiction contributions, 1,000 words maximum, and relevant photographs. Send to: neighbors@columbian.com or P.O. Box 180, Vancouver WA, 98666. Call “Everybody Has an Editor” Scott Hewitt, 360-735-4525, with questions.

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