August 30th, 1945 was just another day for most people. The Second World War had just come to an end a few weeks before. William Galitz was just another working man making a buck at the F.L. Implement Store in DeWitt, Iowa. The day had been uneventful, and all was well. And then he heard the explosion.
It wasn’t all that big, but was loud enough to make Galitz and his co-worker, Elmer Grover, start walking from their workplace down to investigate. The noise came from the direction of the Yegge Oil Company, a Shell service station on the corner of 6th Avenue and 7th Street. Mrs. Roy Benson was walking south along 6th Avenue in the vicinity of the gas station when she heard the sound of breaking glass. Seeing nothing unusual, she continued walking.
As they walked to the gas station, Galitz and Grover ran into a man named Ed Anderson and his son Donald, who were also curious about the explosion. The men continued together toward the building. Galitz saw that a window had been broken in the building, but didn’t see any smoke or fire. The Anderson men joined him at the window, but Grover hung back away from the building. Around the front of the building, Merlyn Krukow and Allen Loltz, a Davenport salesman, were walking into the building to investigate the explosion when the Yegge Oil Company erupted into a chaos of flame, smoke, and broken glass.
Several people were suddenly on fire, their clothes burning. William Galitz, hit by the explosion, and aware that he had been severely burned, was able to run to a nearby doctor’s office for treatment. Herb Ihrke, who ran the service station, was thrown through a window by the blast, also severely burned. Albert McDonald, who had also come to investigate the first explosion, was hit by the blast and collapsed burning in a puddle of gasoline.
Nettie Anderson, a woman who lived nearby, had seen what has happening and ran across the street to help the burning men. Grabbing McDonald, she dragged him across the street and quickly threw a blanket on him to put out the flames. The owner of the Hotel Dell, Mrs. O.S. Moses, also ran out to render aid. She quickly began pulling burning clothing off of the victims. Other locals also ran out to help the burning men.
After the fire department arrived, the fire at the gas station was put out relatively quickly. The victims were taken by ambulance to hospitals in Clinton and Davenport. Out of the eight victims of the fire, five died as a result of their injuries. These were Herb Ihrke, Allen Loltz, Al McDonald, Ed Anderson, and Charles Mohr. William Galltz received severe burns to this hands, arms, and face, but survived. Elmer Grover, who had stayed away from the building before the second explosion, escaped unharmed.
An investigation of the incident, including a coroner’s inquest, quickly followed. Although at least one person had seen a flame inside the building prior to the second explosion, no official cause was ever determined. Many later testified that the proprietor of the building was very careful and safe in his work practices. So, the people were left to mourn their lost loved ones and rebuild in the wake of this sudden and unexpected tragedy.
However, there is a silver lining to this cloud. Due in part to the Yegge Oil Company fire, a large push was made to build a hospital in DeWitt. And although it took several years, the DeWitt Community Hospital opened its doors in 1952, to better serve the needs of the city and surrounding areas.