The devastating Picatinny Arsenal explosion of 1926
One of the biggest disasters in New Jersey history happened on July 10th, 1926. A bolt of lightning struck the Lake Denmark Naval Ammunition Storage Depot in Rockaway Township, part of the Picatinny Arsenal.
At the time, the arsenal was used to store tons of explosives and ammunition, much of it left over from World War I. Around 5 pm that day, a thunderstorm developed in the area sending a lightning strike into the depot. What ensued was a massive explosion: over 600,000 tons of explosives detonated. Everything within 3,000 feet was vaporized and the explosion leveled buildings a half a mile away.
Of the 200 buildings at the depot, 187 were demolished. Shells were found miles away, cars were twisted into smoldering hunks of metal, trees were uprooted and debris was found over 20 miles away. The explosions lasted for three days with several millions of pounds of explosives being detonated in total “turning the forested lands into a lunar landscape complete with craters.”
According to Gawker, the monetary value of the damage would be $631 million in today’s dollars, although some estimates place it closer to $1 billion. Twenty-one reportedly died, both military personnel and civilians, and dozens more injured. A Naval inquiry found that there was no blame to be assigned and Captain Otto Dowling received a Distinguished Service Cross for his handling of the disaster. As a result, a government oversight board was formed to “provide oversight of the development, manufacture, testing, maintenance, demilitarization, handling, transportation and storage of explosives.”
The post above reflects the thoughts and observations of New Jersey 101.5 talk show host Bill Doyle. Any opinions expressed are Bill Doyle's own.