The Umatilla Depot: Community Disaster
On March 21, 1944 tragedy struck the Umatilla Depot as six civilian workers were killed when an ammunition storage igloo exploded. The blast, felt as far away as Lewiston, Idaho, killed five men and one woman. Though there was no official explanation, community members and depot workers speculated that a defective bomb, a dropped bomb, or the tines of a forklift piercing the igloo caused the accident.
. . . The biggest piece that was found is over in our parade field. It's a memorial now. We have a plaque on it. . . Seems like it was the door to one of the trucks that was sitting outside the igloo, it was down by the river, which is like three miles. . . The igloos are actually designed so they're thicker at the bottom, the cement is, like two feet thick, and they eventually get thinner, up to one foot at the top. So if there is an explosion, everything's forced up, so it doesn't affect the igloos on the sides. And the front wall, it's cement, and it falls forward and then the explosion goes up. Did what it was designed to do. The engineers knew what they were doing.
Donna Fuzi interview, April 1999
These bunkers, called "igloos," cover the 25-square mile Umatilla Army Depot. During WWII they housed 2,000 pound "blockbuster" bombs used in aerial bombing. Photos by Donna Sinclair
Donna Fuzi, depot employee for 18 years, discusses the 1944 blast