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Seeds of destruction planted during Henderson's youth

Reported by: Tom Hawley
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Updated: 5/01/2013 6:26 pm
HENDERSON (KSNV MyNews3) -- It was the 1940s when Las Vegas began transitioning to the entertainment and gaming mecca it is today.

That's also when nearby Henderson was created. Initially to support World War II munitions production using that basic and highly flammable component: magnesium.

The greatest explosion in Nevada history rocked the Las Vegas valley 25 years ago this week, leaving death and destruction in its wake.

It was a giant ball of flame that destroyed companies, leveled buildings, twisted solid metal and caused damage throughout the area. The blast measured 3.5 on the Richter scale 600 miles away in Colorado.

Before Pepcon exploded into local history, Henderson already had a relationship with things that go boom -- producing magnesium for World War II munitions.

“It was a more like a military reservation. A government reservation,” said Rick Watson of the Henderson Historical Society. “And I suspect that they wanted to have the plant independent of any city oversight at that point in time. Actually, the plant administered the city town site.”

Watson says the original version of the city appeared very temporary.

“If you look at all the old architectural specs and things, they called it demountable,” he said. “And I think their intention was when the war is over -- just like a lot of defense plants or military bases -- they were gonna take it apart and move on somewhere else.”

After the war though, people liked it here, and Henderson tried to lure industry to the southeast valley.

“The incentive they wanted to use was power and water,” Watson said. “And the plant had an allocation of cheap power and cheap water. And that was something they could offer these other industries.”

Attracted by the enticements were the only two companies in the nation that produced a key component of rocket fuel.

Ken Messner and Tom Conners all worked for the Henderson Fire Department at the time.

“American Pacific, Pepcon, and you had Kerr-McGee, and they both make the ammonium percholrate, and they're both right there in the same facility,” Messner said.

“Frankly, I went through American Pacific beforehand, and you'd see product on the ground,” Conners said. “They weren't concerned about it.”

It was the worst possible scenario for a rocket fuel component plant, and it was hitting a thunderous climax that was felt and heard throughout that valley.
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