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On Jan. 11, 1974, a 10,000-gallon propane tank exploded at the Bellows Court Apartment complex, killing four people. A propane truck was refilling the storage tank when fire broke out. Five firefighters arrived on the scene and began dousing the flames, when the tank exploded. A bright flash and deep boom could be seen and heard across the city.
Two firefighters died in the explosion, Erling Armstrong and Richard Neikirk. A third firefighter, Captain John Heuer died at the hospital. Lois Peterson, wife of the apartment caretaker, was also killed in the blast.
“She got everyone out except herself,” said Peterson’s husband Wilmer in a Minneapolis Star article.
An estimated 750 people were evacuated, forced into the 10-below-zero January morning to find shelter. Governor Wendell Anderson ordered the Minnesota National Guard to the site to prevent looting.
The three firefighters who died in the line of duty are memorialized on a plaque on a hillside in Marthaler Park across from the fire station.
For more information check out the 45th anniversary Facebook post from the City of West St. Paul, featuring pictures and an account from the West St. Paul Centennial.
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Photo credit: Extra Alarm Association of the Twin Cities