This weekend marked the 40th anniversary of a disastrous event in the north-central Iowa town of Eagle Grove. An explosion leveled a portion of the downtown area just after 6 p.m. on February 2, 1973.
Gary Lalor was a young firefighter in the Wright County town at the time of the blast, which destroyed a cafe, a jewelry store and a Coast to Coast store – killing 14 people. “There was one person in the Coast to Coast store, living in an upstairs apartment. I believe there were 12 people in the cafe…and one firefighter died of a heart attack on the way to the scene,” Lalor said.
“It was quite a tragedy.” The explosion was followed by a massive fire that took firefighters several hours to extinguish. It’s believed a natural gas build up in the Coast to Coast store caused the disaster, but it also remains a bit of a mystery.
“I don’t believe they ever came to an absolute, set in stone reason for this,” Lalor said. “The utility company, I think, reconstructed every piece of pipe out of all the buildings and I don’t believe they ever came to an absolute conclusion.” The explosion made news headlines around the world.
Lalor, who is now the Eagle Grove Fire Chief, said he remembers the blast like it happened yesterday. “For myself and probably anyone who worked that scene, you can close your eyes and go right back to it,” Lalor said. “It is something that will absolutely be with you forever.”
A plaque honoring the memory of those who died in the explosion was placed in downtown Eagle Grove in 1993.
By Pat Powers, KQWC, Webster City