1988 PEPCON Explosion In Henderson, NV Facts & Figures

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May 4, 2018 marks the 30th anniversary of the PEPCON explosion in Henderson, NV.  


DateWednesday, May 4, 1988.

TimeInitial fire began between 11:30 and 11:40 AM, PDT. 

LocationPacific Engineering and Production Company of Nevada (PEPCON), Henderson NV.  "Ground Zero" is considered to be 103 Corporate Park Drive which is located between N. Gibson and N. Stephanie to the east and west and American Pacific Drive and the 215 Beltway to the north and south, respectively, and approximately 10 miles southeast of downtown Las Vegas. 

CauseOfficially unknown.  The United States Fire Administration (USFA) stated the fire was created by workers welding steel that spread to fiberglass materials and nearby ammonium perchlorate residue.  The United States Department of Labor (USDL) discredited the theory due to eyewitness testimony and scientific burn tests.  


Number injured: 372.

Property DamageEstimated $100 Million ($207 Million in 2017 Dollars).  3,176 residences were damaged.

Number of explosions: 7.

TNT EquivalencyThe largest explosion was believed to be equal to 1.0 Kilotons of TNT.  

Richter ScaleThe two largest blasts measured 3.0 and 3.5 on the Richter Scale. 

Impact RadiusStructures were damaged within a 10-mile radius. 

Detonation ImpressionThe final blast left a crater approximately 15 feet deep and 200 feet long. 

NASA Case StudyThe PEPCON explosion was the largest domestic, non-nuclear explosion in recorded history. 

Las Vegas Hilton: Located on Paradise Road and north of the Convention Center, it was reported windows shattered as a result of the blast.  An early radio report noted an individual was knocked down on the 13th floor.  

Ammonium perchlorateApproximately 4,000 tons of an oxidizer used in solid fuel rocket boosters, ammonium perchlorate, were stored at the facility after PEPCON was allowed to continue to produce the material without any regulations for storage or shipping.  Used in military weapons and the Space Shuttle, the amounts in storage grew as the United States suspended the Space Shuttle missions after the 1986 Challenger explosion.  The largest explosion is estimated to have been the result of 1,500 tons.  

Cattle Baron's CasinoThe newly constructed casino located 2.6 miles north, north-east of the blast had 8 of 12 large windows broken.  

Bertha's Furniture StoreLocated along the Sahara Expressway and east of Maryland Parkway, about 9.3 miles from the blast, the furniture store had two of its four large plate glass-windows broken. 

Kidd Marshmallow PlantLocated just 500 feet from PEPCON, the factory was completely destroyed.  

$1,000,000The total amount of PEPCON's insurance policy.  

Video Of The 1988 PEPCON Disaster In Henderson, NV

Blast Zone's Development Since 1990

Fortunately, the area surrounding the PEPCON plant was sparsely populated in 1988.  As with much of the Las Vegas Valley, Henderson would undergo unprecedented growth in the years to come.  Below is a composite of aerial views from over the years showing "Ground Zero" at 103 Corporate Park Drive as well as the subsequent urbanization of the surrounding areas.  

     Gibson Springs/PEPCON explosion area since 1990

NASA Safety Center System Failure Case Study

Sandia National Laboratory Analysis of the Accidental Explosion at Pepcon, Henderson, Nevada, May 4, 1988

United States Fire Administration Technical Report Series

United States Fire Administration Technical Report Series: Fire and Explosions at Rocket Fuel Plant Henderson, Nevada.

United States Fire Administration Technical Report Series
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