Los Alamos National Laboratory

Los Alamos National Laboratory

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Burning Ground

A new documentary highlights high-explosives safety.
July 18, 2019
A plaque commemorates the lives lost during the Burning Ground accident.

A plaque commemorates the lives lost during the Burning Ground accident.

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No fatal explosives accidents have happened at Los Alamos in nearly 60 years.

For more than a decade, Cary Skidmore of the Lab’s Detonation Science and Technology group has devoted time and energy to highlighting the importance of safety when working with high explosives (HE). In August 2018, he debuted Burning Ground, a documentary he created about an explosives accident that killed four workers at the Laboratory’s S-Site on October 14, 1959.

Around the time of the accident—as the U.S. transitioned from World War II technologies to Cold War technologies—more powerful explosives were being developed. The cause of the accident was in the handling of these modern, more volatile materials. 

As a result of the accident, Skidmore believes that HE work at the Lab has become safer. “This event indirectly led to the development of ‘insensitive’ high explosives, which can’t be unintentionally detonated,” he says. No fatal explosives accidents have happened at Los Alamos in nearly 60 years.

Skidmore’s documentary premiered during the Lab’s HE Safety Day, an annual event that emphasizes the vitally important work the Laboratory does with hazardous materials every day. The documentary can now be viewed publicly on the Los Alamos Historical Society’s YouTube page or below.


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The aftermath of the Burning Ground accident.


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The aftermath of the Burning Ground accident.