Pawnee Co. Woman Remembers Loved Ones Lost In Fireworks Plant Explosion

Sunday, June 27th 2010, 9:19 pm
By: News On 6

By Chris Wright, The News On 6

PAWNEE COUNTY -- This week marked a grim anniversary in Pawnee County. 

Twenty-five years ago, 21 workers were killed when an explosion destroyed a fireworks plant. Those who lost loved ones say it's an event that shaped their lives, and forever changed several towns.

Twenty-five years later, Shirlynn Latham can still recite the names of all 21 people killed when the Aerlex Fireworks Plant exploded. But the names that stir the most hurtful memories are those of her mother, Shirley, and her sister, Gayla, who both died that day.

"I didn't believe it at first. You wouldn't think that many people, friends and family would be harmed like that at one time," said Shirlynn Latham.

Her mother and sister had taken temporary jobs at the plant. On June 25th, 1985, workers were rushing to fill orders for the upcoming 4th of July holiday. 

Investigators believe friction set off fireworks, which then triggered a massive explosion. 

No one inside made it outside alive. 

It remains one of Oklahoma's deadliest industrial accidents, and a tragedy that devastated the Lathams.

"Every year, I mean, you think about them. You can't not think about them," said Sam Latham, Shirlynn's husband.

The explosion has left a deep scar in Pawnee County. The victims were from the nearby tiny towns.

 The Lathams say their hometown of Terlton has never recovered.

"Everyone in the whole town was affected because everyone knew everybody. It just devastated the whole town," said Shirlynn.

Shirlynn says she was finally able to move on with her life, but June 25th, 1985 is always in the back of her mind.

"There's not a day that goes by I don't think about them and the other people that was killed too, just devastating," said Shirlynn.

Shirlynn also lost another relative that day. Her cousin was killed in the blast as well.

6/25/2010  Related Story: Friday Marks 25th Anniversary Of Deadly Oklahoma Industrial Accident