photo: Jad Davenport, 1998

Rocky Flats is located just 16 miles northwest of Denver

Dense black smoke filled the cavernous factory building. An explosion sent two basketball-sized fireballs hurtling toward the ceiling. Hanging fluorescent light fixtures clattered down as intense heat melted their fasteners. Glowing drops of lead fell like rain from the radiation shielding around the overhead conveyers. The firefighters, in protective moon suits and hardhats, found their way through the smoke by following emergency evacuation arrows painted on the floor. It took them 5½ long, grueling hours to contain the blaze.



This plutonium fire at the Rocky Flats nuclear bomb factory came frighteningly close to devastating Denver on May 11, 1969. Thanks to the brave firefighters and sheer luck, it didn't. But the story of this fire - its causes and consequences - has much to tell about the assumptions and risks of the nuclear weapons age, which continues to threaten today's world.

Denver Post headline, May 12, 1969

Click the alarm box
to hear an audio clip
from former plant
worker Willie Warling, Jr.
Oral history, Carnegie Library

©2005 Len Ackland. All rights reserved.