Any time you are working with or storing gun powder or other explosives, you run the risk of an explosion. I don’t think that any such explosion is death-free, unless possibly if the factory or warehouse is empty at the time. That is unlikely, because most of these places have at the very least, security personnel working there 24/7 and many run shifts around the clock as well. Of course, that is in today’s world. Back in 1769, however, it is unlikely that people were in the facility 24/7.

A part of the Republic of Venice…Brescia was the site of the Bastion of San Nazaro, a military arsenal and powder storage area. About 200,000 pounds of black powder was stored at the site, enough to destroy about a sixth of the city when a lightning bolt set off the blast in 1769. Because buildings then were not built in such a way as to protect from fire and lightning, there was more risk of disaster than we have today, and there is plenty of risk today, but possibly less from lightning. Unfortunately, in 1769, disaster came in the form of lightning striking the structure. The ensuing explosion actually devastated the town. When the lightning struck, it started a fire that ignited 198,416 pounds of gunpowder stored at the bastion. As the fire burned, it caused a massive explosion which destroyed one-sixth of the Brescia and killed approximately 6,000 people. Giant rocks and building stones were launched about a kilometer away in every direction, causing massive damage to the surrounding area and crushing unfortunate people. The blast also blew out windows and blew in doors to buildings over a wide area.

With a reported death toll of around 6000, this Italian disaster ranks among the worst of the black powder explosions of all time. Who would have thought that an explosion could take out one-sixth of a city? Today, Brescia has over 200,000 people, and while we don’t know the population back then, we know that a devastation of one-sixth of it killed 3,00 to 6,000 people, so it must have had as many as 50,000 people living there in 1769. The number of fatalities varies among those making estimates, with some saying 3,000. Nevertheless, 3,000 or 6,000 is irrelevant because any loss of life is devastating. This particular tragedy motivated Benjamin Franklin to experiment with the use of lightning rods to protect powder storage buildings. His work found a way to help make buildings a little safer and so lightning rod usage was advised in powder storage buildings…advice apparently taken by the British.

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