We have covered many infamous fires over the years in the United States, so I decided to look at some from areas outside our borders. This week we will look at the largest man made explosion prior to the use of nuclear weapons.

We have covered many infamous fires over the years in the United States, so I decided to look at some from areas outside our borders. This week we will look at the largest man made explosion prior to the use of nuclear weapons.

December 6th of 1917 in Halifax Nova Scotia the vessel SS Imo collided with the SS Mont-Blanc. The Mont-Blanc was a cargo ship out of France and was carrying a large amount of explosives from New York to France via Halifax. While in the straits the Mont-Blanc was hit by the SS Imo at a recorded speed of only 1.2 mph. The collision started a fire onboard the Mont-Blanc and after less than 20 minutes the ship exploded.

Understandably with a collision at that speed the damage would be minor so what caused the ensuing fire and explosion? The Mont-Blanc was carrying barrels of benzol that were knocked over and spilled their contents across the deck; benzol is a toxic, volatile, flammable liquid byproduct of coal distillation. As the benzol flowed below deck into the engine rooms a spark ignited the product which quickly spread throughout the ship.

In a matter of less than 25 minutes the ship was reduced to rubble and ash due to an explosion of the munitions, in fact her forward 90 mm gun landed 3.5 mile away and her anchor, weighing half a ton, landed nearly two mile away.

Over 1,600 people were killed instantly and 9,000 were injured. Every building within 1.5 mi radius was destroyed; hundreds of people who had been watching the fire from their homes were blinded when the blast wave hit at an estimated 23 times the speed of sound. The blast wave caused fires throughout the town burning entire city blocks. If the blast did not destroy the buildings the blast wave toppled stoves started additional fires that caused even further damage. One firefighter was quoted as saying "The sight was awful, with people hanging out of windows dead. Some with their heads missing and some thrown onto the overhead telegraph wires."

Due to World War 1 going on at this time many people feared that they had just been bombed by the Germans and feared additional bombing runs. While this was a quickly disproven fact the belief and fear was so strong that many German survivors were gathered up and imprisoned.

As if to add insult to injury the explosion was so intense that a large tsunami wave flooded the city, many people were swept away and drowned. The day after this explosion the area was hit with one of the worst blizzards in their history that lasted for nearly a week. With 1,600 building destroyed, 12,000 houses damaged, 6,000 homeless, life was nearly unbearable.

Relief from both Canada and the United States started pouring in in an effort to offer relief and rebuild the city. The people have not forgotten those who responded to help, still today each year the province of Nova Scotia sends a large Christmas tree to Boston to express their gratitude. .