I don’t know why I’m drawn to these New Jersey historical disasters, but I am. On May 10th, 1883, lightning struck a storage tank at, what was at the time, the largest oil depot in the world, the Cavan Point Oil Depot in Jersey City.

According to the book This Day in New Jersey History, the resulting explosion was devastating, killing six people. The fire also caused some $500,000 in damage. Seven tanks at the Standard Oil works ultimately caught fire and it was reported that the storage house, the engine house, oil and water houses, sunken tanks and the machine shop all caught fire.

There were waves of flaming oil and New York Bay was also on fire for 3/4 of a mile as well as a quarter of a mile inland. Some of the six men who died got disoriented in the impenetrable smoke and wandered into the water. According to accounts of the day, the Engine #10 of the Jersey Fire Department saw the lighting strike a mile away and rushed to the scene where they encountered a blaze that they almost instantly knew they would be unable to quell. They concentrated their efforts on preventing its spread.

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