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As Atchison Tragedy Unfolds, Powerful Memories Resurface

Powerful explosion, fire at Bartlett Grain stirs strong memories of 1998 explosion at DeBruce

In the almost-48 hours since a powerful explosion rocked Bartlett Grain in Atchison leaving six people dead and two critically injured, my mind has returned again and again to June of 1998 when a grain dust explosion at DeBruce Grain in Haysville, just south of Wichita, left seven people dead and 10 others hurt.

Images from those first few hours and days 13 years ago have flashed: Scott Mosteller, 37, on his cell phone on the roof of the building, talking to his father Tom as helicopters circled above, hampered in efforts to help by swirling wind currents created by the fire; the smell of burned popcorn as the grain sorghum in the elevator popped then burned; the gaping holes in the sides of concrete silos, the high winds and tornado watch of the day following the explosion.

For the families of the victims of Saturday night's disaster, the search for the missing proved mercifully short. All three bodies were recovered Monday morning.

Farm families live with the reality that there is sometimes grave danger in the work they do. And with the knowledge that tragic accidents can and do happen. Eventually the cause of the DeBruce tragedy was traced to an accumulation of dust and to a failed bearing on a conveyor belt, one of 12,000 bearings in the quarter-mile long elevator.

My heart goes out to the families and the friends of the victims of this weekend's tragedy. May you find the strength to rebuild your lives in the face of this profound and horrible loss.

My thoughts and hopes are with the injured and their families as they struggle to become survivors; with the firefighters and investigators who have days, even weeks or months of work ahead in putting out the fires, repairing the damage and determining what happened and how best to prevent it in the future; and with the management and the employees of Bartlett Grain as they tackle the challenges of the future.

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