Catastrophic blast at Dutch depot tops worst fireworks losses

By Chad Hemenway on July 3, 2014

A fire that led to a massive explosion at the SE Fireworks depot in the Dutch city of Enschede leads a list of the worst losses involving fireworks, according to Advisen’s Loss Insight database.

Twenty-three people were killed and nearly 950 were injured. About 400 homes were destroyed and 1,500 damaged from multiple blasts at the site on May 13, 2000.

Total damage from the disaster is estimated at 550 euro, or about $505.5 million at the currency rate in 2000. Today, the estimate is closer to $750 million.

More than 175 tons of fireworks were ignited by the fire. According to local reports the cause of the fire was never determined but two managers from the storage company were sentenced to 15 months in jail for safety violations, dealing in illegal fireworks, and causing death by neglect.


Fireworks may or may not have contributed to the $370 million loss (cargo, plus the ship) absorbed by Hyundai Merchant Marine when an explosion on March 21, 2006 charred or sank nearly 100 containers. About 7 containers on board contained fireworks but the explosion occurred below deck.

Fireworks believed to have been smuggled into Dubai illegally exploded from a fire in a warehouse on March 25, 2008. An official said damage was more than $250 million. Two people were killed, two were injured and damage occurred to surrounding buildings in the industrial area.

Loss on the Fourth of July

Advisen then ran a list of the top loss events occurring on July 4. These events did not have to involve fireworks.

However, according to Advisen Loss Insight, the top event did involve a July 4 parade. The Gustine Unified School District (California) paid cheerleader Natalia Lacayo $17.5 million to settle a claim involving her 2008 fall from a pickup truck on her way to a parade.

According to the case description Lacayo just finished cheerleading practice when she was allegedly told by a coach to find someone with a truck to take them to the parade. After less than 100 feet of driving, three cheerleaders fell out of the back of the truck. Lacayo suffered a massive traumatic brain injury and paraplegia. The school district was sued for negligent supervision by the coach.

Ranch hands at the La Laguna Ranch in Santa Barbara County, Calif. accidentally set a fire, known as the Zaca Fire, that by Aug. 31, 2007 burned more than 240,000 acres – then the second-largest wildfire in the state’s history at the time.

Four corporations connected to La Laguna Ranch paid a total of $17 million to compensate state and federal governments for the costs of fighting the wildfire.

Dolgencorp, or Dollar General, occupies the third spot on the list due a July 4, 2002 motorcycle-pickup truck accident. The driver of the motorcycle was left brain damaged. His family sued pickup driver Tammylee Wright’s employer, Dollar General, when it was found she was using the truck to run an errand for her employer.

Dolgencorp’s insurers came up with $15 million to settle the case.

Many of the cases on this list involve motor vehicle accidents of some kind.

Chad Hemenway is Managing Editor of Advisen News. He has more than 15 years of journalist experience at a variety of online, daily, and weekly publications. He has covered P&C insurance news since 2007, and he has experience writing about all P&C lines as well as regulation and litigation. Chad won a Jesse H. Neal Award for Best Single Article in 2014 for his coverage of the insurance implications of traumatic brain injuries and Best News Coverage in 2013 for coverage of Superstorm Sandy. Contact Chad at 212.897.4824 or [email protected].