10 years later, Kilgore residents remember deadly blast

Annetha Kenney talks about the explosion of the Pyrotechnics by Lamb building 10 years ago. Herb Nygren Jr./Staff

A decade after disaster struck a Kilgore neighborhood, a concrete slab is all that remains of a pyrotechnics facility that exploded 10 years ago today.

The explosion left three people dead and damaged houses and property as far away as 2,000 feet.

That day, three workers — Marvin Lamb, 70; Martin Donner, 58; and Melinda Edmundson, 25 — died, and a neighborhood on Pentecost Road was shaken. Authorities ruled the explosion an accident, possibly started by static electricity.

Many of the same residents live there now, and the site of the fireworks explosion is cleaned up.

But those who were there still recall the incident and its effect.

James Kenney has a picture to remind him of what occurred.

The picture, which features angels, was above his fireplace on July 3, 2003 when the explosion occurred across the street at Pyrotechnics By Lamb.

He said it now helps him remember that his own life was spared.

"I know that we all have angels protect us, even though we don't think about that, so that's what really got my attention," Kenney said.

Kenney's wife, Annetha Kenney, said she learned how quick things can happen and how quick people can lose things.

"We could have lost our lives. There were three people over there that did. We could have too. Though it didn't happen, it could have. It's just that quick," she said.

Mrs. Kenney said going through an experience like that "makes you appreciate (life) more."

On the day of the explosion, she said she and her husband, James, were going about their lives.

Her husband was standing in front of the fireplace with his son, and she was outside.

Kenney said he heard "boom after boom," and thought it could have been an attack of some kind.

"It was just like a dream…something you can't believe even happened or could happen," Kenney said.

"It was just tearing up everything," he added.

Wanda Williams lives near the Kenneys.

She too said that day "seemed like a dream," and she didn't know what was happening.

In fact, she said she thought an airplane crashed.

"The wind was blowing bricks, (and) windows were falling out," she said.

Despite structural damage to homes, the neighbors were safe, except for some cuts from flying debris.

After the explosion, Mrs. Williams said she had to rebrick her house and get new windows.

The Kenneys had to leave their house for months while it was rebuilt.

They were in a hotel when school started back up for their children, but they later were able to stay in a house in Liberty City, Mrs. Kenney said.

Today, residents talk about the incident around the Fourth of July, Kenney said.

Mrs. Kenney said that at the time of the explosion, she saw boxes being loaded nearby and thought Pyrotechnics By Lamb was getting ready for the next day.

She said she and her husband knew that the business did fireworks shows, but they didn't know the magnitude.

When asked if they ever considered moving after the incident, Mrs. Kenney said, "It was a thought."

Through it all, though, she said she was able to see how people cared, and appreciated those who prayed or thought about their family.

Mrs. Williams said she thinks about the explosion all the time and still has painting to do in different areas.

"We were just blessed to have insurance. I just hope nothing else happens like that," she said.

City leaders also shared their memories. They said the fireworks explosion impacted the community.

Kilgore Mayor Ronnie Spradlin was not mayor at the time, but is a longtime area resident.

He said the community lost a third-generation business that had been doing fireworks at different events. In 2003, Fourth of July fireworks shows were planned at Hollytree and Willow Brook country clubs in Tyler, and additional shows in Lufkin, Henderson, Lake Cherokee, Longview, Hillsboro, and a private party near Lake O' the Pines. It was expected to use anywhere from 7,000 to 8,000 pounds of fireworks during its shows that year. Joe Lamb, who operated Lamb Entertainment and Pyrotechnics By Lamb, died in 2008, and his father, Marvin Lamb, died in the explosion.

Mary Lamb, mother of Joe Lamb, declined an interview with the Tyler Morning Telegraph, saying there were "too many heartaches," and family members were trying to put the incident behind them. 

Aside from losing the business, Spradlin said residents also were displaced and needed assistance.

"It was just one of those things …When you live in a small country town, having it happen here brought home the fact it could happen anywhere," he said.

"I think everyone in town remembers that day. Every time I drive by it, I think about it," he added.

Kilgore Fire Marshal Brandon Bigos, who served as a driver/engineer at the time, called the explosion "a devastating loss of life that affected a lot of people."

"The damage…caused…homes…to be rebuilt or renovated," he said.

"Anytime that you have an explosion of that magnitude (with) numerous deaths, you definitely don't want to repeat it."


City Editor Megan Middleton, Business Editor Casey Murphy and former Staff Writer Mark Collette contributed to this report.






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