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April 23, 1958 -
The Esso Oil Terminal Fire
Wednesday, April 23, 1958

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Accounts:
On the evening of Wednesday, April 23, 1958 the Esso Oil Terminal in Newport News caught fire and burned for roughly 24 hours before being brought under some semblance of control. It was days before everything finally cooled off. Civilian and military fire departments from all over the Peninsula fought the blaze. After their entire foam supply had been exhausted, the Navy barged more from Norfolk and unloaded it at the nearest C&O coal pier. The loss was reportedly over one million dollars (a big amount in 1958).

You may wonder why I remember it so well. That's because I was right in the middle of it all...a story for another time.

- Bill Lee (Warwick HS - '54) of NC - 04/23/08
 Bill, you of course have no way of knowing that this is one of those events to which I have been trying to attach a date for the last forty-eleven years! We talked about it here several times years ago. Somewhere in my files there's a body of evidence to support that, and I shall extricate it presently, but I'm burning daylight here and now. You are my hero! Thanks so much!
Oooh, I have a great one:  "Fire" by "The Crazy World of Arthur Brown"

You can see the real deal on You Tube:

Attached is "NOW" image of the tank farm.
- Dave Spriggs ('64) of VA - 04/23/08
David, you are a SOOPER-GENIUS! That video is delightfully weird, and the image is incredible! Thanks so very much!

It is hard to believe that this fire was fifty years ago.  My dad was stationed at the C & O Fire Station, and was the first truck to arrive on the scene !  Daddy later said that when they finally saw what they had on their hands, he stopped the truck and stayed right where he was and called Headquarters (behind NNHS) and told them to call for emergency backup and that included all surrounding cities and the Military.  Daddy's orders were to put the truck in reverse in case one of the tanks went up; he didn't have to be told twice. 

We didn't see him until the next day, and he came walking up the sidewalk covered with black soot, his eyes red from the smoke and lack of sleep.  He looked so bad our dog, Tina, barked at him; not even his dog could catch his scent.  He took a well needed shower and tried to sleep, but four hours was all he could manage; he had to get back to that fire !  We saw him again the next day. 

There were many classmates in the class of '58 whose fathers were firefighters also, I am sure they shared the fear for their fathers as much as we did.  We were terrified until Daddy was home safe at last and the last flame was extinguished !

Dimples aka Sepi

- Sepi Dinwiddie Prichard ('58) of NC- 04/23/08
WOWZERONI! Thanks, Dimples!
My memory of that day involves my daddy too, but in an entirely different way.....


(The Crazy World of Arthur Brown)

I am the god of hell fire and I bring you:
Fire, I'll take you to burn.
Fire, I'll take you to learn.
I'll see you burn!
You fought hard and you saved and learned,
but all of it's going to burn.
And your mind, your tiny mind,
you know you've really been so blind.
Now 's your time burn your mind.
You're falling far too far behind.
Oh no, oh no, oh no, you gonna burn!
Fire, to destroy all you've done.
Fire, to end all you've become.
I'll feel you burn!
You've been living like a little girl,
in the middle of your little world.
And your mind, your tiny mind,
you know you've really been so blind.
Now 's your time burn your mind,
you're falling far too far behind.

(This page was created on 04/23/08 - exactly fifty years after the fact.)

"Fire" midi (sequenced by Bruce Bundy) courtesy
of at the suggestion of Dave Spriggs ('64) of VA - 04/23/08
Thanks again, Dave!

"Fire" lyrics courtesy of, also at the suggestion of Dave Spriggs ('64) of VA - 04/23/08
Thanks once more, Dave!

04/23/58 Image courtesy of Bill Lee (WHS - '54) of NC - 04/23/08
Thanks so much, Bill!

04/23/08 Image courtesy of Dave Spriggs ('64) of VA - 04/23/08
Thanks one more time, Dave!

First Fire Divider Bar clip art courtesy of - 07/06/04

Second and Third Fire Divider Bars clip art courtesy of - 07/06/04

Return to NNHS Class of 1965