The Pacific Engineering and Production Co. of Nevada (PEPCON) began operating in 1958. The plant produced ammonium perchlorate, an oxidizer used in National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) space shuttle and the defense industry's Titan missile programs. The plant was built just southeast of Las Vegas near Henderson. Inexpensive hydropower from nearby Hoover Dam and the dry climate - ideal for easier handling and storage of the product - made the location perfect.
Shortly before noon on May 4, 1988, a series of explosions rattled the plant and the surrounding area. The blasts killed two employees and injured more than 300 others.
Company officials estimated about 4,500 tons of ammonium perchlorate were present at the plant at the time of the explosions. Nearly all of it was destroyed by the explosions and fires. A nearby natural gas pipeline was ruptured by the detonations resulting in large flames that were visible miles away.
Members of the closest responding units from Henderson Fire Department suffered cuts when their engines’ windows shattered as they approached the scene.
The nearby Kidd & Co. marshmallow plant was nearly destroyed and numerous homes, schools, and businesses suffered varying degrees of damage. Property damage to buildings other than the plant was estimated at $74 million.
PEPCON Explosion & Fire
County Fire Department fire investigators determined that sparks from a welder’s torch ignited the ammonium perchlorate. Poor housekeeping contributed to the fire and the resulting explosions. The first explosion was the smallest and provided a warning to company employees to evacuate the complex. Two more detonations obliterated the property, but by then, all but two management members of the company had escaped.
In 1982, PEPCON merged with American Pacific, officially adopting a new company name in 1986, American Pacific, and eventually relocating to Cedar City, Utah to operate the perchlorate arm of business as Western Electrochemical Company.