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Retired firefighter recounts day of massive PEPCON explosion |

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Retired firefighter recounts day of massive PEPCON explosion

May 4, 1988, is a day people who have lived in the Las Vegas valley for a long time will never forget.

Why? Because the explosion at the PEPCON plant killed two and injured hundreds of others.

8 News NOW spoke with one of the first firefighters to arrive on the scene that day, and after 35 years on the Henderson Fire Department, Don Griffie is enjoying retirement as he runs a fire hydrant repair business.

But three decades later, the memories of what happened at the Pacific Engineering and Production Company of Nevada Plant are still fresh.

Don was in one of the first engines heading to the initial fire at the plant when the first explosion occurred.

"It blew, and we just reached our hands up and caught the windshield on the truck as it blew out," said Don Griffie, retired Henderson Fire Captain. "He stopped immediately, and we took it from the side, and I just turned around, and I said 'you know what, there ain't nothing there anymore, we're turning around and getting out of here.'"

Griffie says they were about a quarter of a mile away when that blast happened.

The second explosion happened as Griffie was outside of his ladder truck trying to direct the driver how to turn around. When the blast occurred, it knocked Griffie onto the top of the truck.

The PEPCON explosion killed two people and injured 372 others. The PEPCON factory and the marshmallow plant next door were completely obliterated.

"When you have to see that explosion, and I mean, I'm inside that thing, so I'm saying 'oh my gosh, there's got to be people laying all over the ground,' and that's really why I was looking at the vehicles coming back out," Griffie said.

Griffie ended up heading the northern command post for the rest of the day, and during that time he directed crews across the city to check on calls related to the explosion.

The blasts caused property damage over a 10-mile radius with severe damage surveyed up to a mile and a half from the PEPCON plant.

The factory was producing ammonium perchlorate, a key component in the rocket fuel used for NASA's space shuttle program.

Griffie insists he and other firefighters were not aware that chemical compound was being produced at the facility or else they would have been more hesitant to approach the initial fire.

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