35 years later: Remembering the PEPCON disaster in Henderson

The morning of May 4, 1988 was 75 degrees, overcast and breezy.
Published: May. 4, 2023 at 12:28 PM PDT
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LAS VEGAS, Nev. (FOX5) - The morning of May 4, 1988 was 75 degrees, overcast and breezy.

Seven explosions would rock the Las Vegas Valley emanating from what is believed to be a welder’s torch inside the Pacific Engineering and Production Corporation of Nevada - PEPCON.

Two people would die and nearly 400 were injured. The explosions were so powerful, the final one registered a 3.5 on the Richter scale.

It was the most powerful civilian explosion in the history of the United States, caused by the storage of ammonium perchlorate - used in the space program as an oxidizer for rocket fuel.

After the Challenger explosion in 1986, the government put a hold on future launches and the excess fuel was kept at the PEPCON facility.

An estimated 4,500 tons of the stuff were at the facility when disaster struck, causing nearly $200 million in damages in today’s dollars as debris flew up to ten miles from the epicenter of the explosion.

In the legal aftermath, PEPCON eventually settled a $125 million lawsuit in 1992 for the damages and to victims and their families.