At the corner of Patterson and Shakertown Roads in Beavercreek, many years ago there was a company which provided chemical recycling and barrel reconditioning. Although it did not manufacture barrels, most folks referred to the business as the “Barrel Factory.” It was a landmark for several years and since it was the site of one of the largest fires in the history of the county, the site though no longer used by that business is still remembered.
The Lammers Factory, often known as the Kohnen-Lammers Factory was owned by Anthony Kohnen and Paul Lammers. The business was in operation from 1953 to Oct. 7, 1969 when the fire occurred. The tower of flame which erupted from the site could be seen for several miles. The newspapers reported that people as far away as Springfield, Vandalia and West Carrollton could see the flames, and certainly, folks in Beavercreek and Xenia were able to see the fire.
News media appeared very quickly on the scene and several residents elected to drive to the scene to view the fire firsthand causing a terrible traffic jam. This made it more difficult for neighboring fire and police personnel to get to the scene to help. It was reported that cars parked in the median or on the side of the road on US Route 35 in order to observe what was happening.
The business actually was involved in the cleaning and reclamation of industrial solvents. Several types of chemicals were stored at the factory, including lacquer thinner and alcohol. Because of the nature of the business, thousands of barrels were stacked on the property, and from this comes the title barrel factory.
Apparently the fire broke out just before 6 p.m. on a loading dock where workmen were unloading drums containing solvents, then apparently spread to three nearby trailers loaded with drums and barrels.
Soon the two-story brick factory building and hundreds of barrels stored on the two and one-half acre property were enveloped in flames.
The Beavercreek Fire Department was under the direction of Chief T.E. (Bud) Crawford at the time. This was entirely a volunteer organization. There was no central water supply and no fire hydrants from which to draw water to fight the fire, so that when the water in the tanker trucks ran out, the trucks had to be taken away to be refilled. This was a time-consuming chore whichallowed the fire to spread even more.
There was another problem with the tanker trucks. Not all the hose connections were the same size so that if a pumper truck ran out of water and another took its place the hose might not fit.
The black smoke rose into the sky. According to a report in the Xenia Daily Gazette, Taylor Holland of Beavercreek saw the smoke column as he was driving away from Wilmington about 8:30 p.m. He said, “It was a very black sheet of smoke. As I got closer to Xenia, I could see the flames billowing into the sky. I guessed right that the barrel factory was burning.”
The flames continued to rise through the early hours of the evening. More than a dozen fire departments, perhaps as many as 20 from neighboring communities rallied to help0. The flames were so hot the firemen could not get close. Barrels exploded all evening long, some hurtling high in the air before landing back on the ground.
Beavercreek fireman Lt. Larry Vogel was injured when a drum exploded and engulfed him in flames. Fortunately the fire gear he was wearing kept him from more serious injury. Lt. Howard Geradine and Majusick of Mad River Township each received leg injuries. Fortunately there were no more serious injuries.
The fire began to come under control after about five hours when Dayton and Wright-Patterson fire trucks spread foam. Since there was no real way to fight the factory fire, water was sprayed on neighboring businesses which included three service stations and an animal hospital in the attempt to protect them from the flames.
Chief Crawford said, “Drums were flying all around. Men would hear an explosion and run, looking up in the air to see what was coming down on top of them.”
Finally the fire was out, and only the charred remains were left. Nearby service stations had plate glass windows cracked, and paint on the buildings was blistered. Street lights nearby melted on their poles from the heat and gasoline tank hoses were burned. At the Apple Valley Animal Hospital, a sign on the front caught on fire; heat charred the front door and broke the plate glass window. Even the draperies were scorched from the heat. Fortunately, the staff was able to move the animals to the back of the building away from danger. Power lines and telephone lines were burned through. Grass and shrubbery was scorched for hundreds of feet around the area.
The next morning the chemical smell was strong in the area. Thousands of blackened barrels littered the ground. In the center of what was left of the factory two giant tanks remained. Three burned out tanker trucks were amidst the rubble and the fire still smoldered.
The company had suffered a previous loss in November 1963 from a considerably smaller fire with damages estimated to be about $10,000. The estimates for the 1969 fire ranged from $400,000 to $500,000.
Joan Baxter is a local resident and a long-time historical columnist.