Valley High School graduates talk PEPCON disaster on 32nd anniversary

Local News

HENDERSON, Nev. (KLAS) — If you were alive and lived here in the Valley 32 years ago, you probably know what you were doing on this day. On May 4, 1988, the deadly PEPCON explosion occurred in Henderson near the 215 and Gibson.

8 News Now spoke to two Valley High School graduates who remember the day vividly.

“We talk about it all the time because I was a senior in high school,” said Las Vegas resident Lisa Sokoloski.

Ask anyone who grew up in Las Vegas what they were doing on that day, and they will most likely remember the exact moment the explosion happened.

“There was a huge noise, and we felt it in the building,” recalled Sokoloski.

Henderson resident Marc Isquith remembered, “It kind of jolted you out of your seat a little bit, almost fell out of the chair.”

Isquith and Sokoloski were both at Valley High, miles away from the explosion.

“Everybody stopped, the teacher stopped, it was like what was going on, everyone panicked,” recounted Isquith. Sokoloski recollected, “we were told by our principal that a plane had exploded, we were escorted out of the building.”

The explosion wasn’t a plane, though. The cloud seen across the Valley that day was coming from the Pacific Engineering and Production Company of Nevada. 

According to an investigation, a welder’s torch sparked a fire that spread to a stock pile of ammonium perchlorate. The chemical is used to propel rockets. 

Two people died and more than 300 were injured. 

“Everybody was just in shock. I was a nanny at the time. It went as far as the Las Vegas Country Club,” said Sokoloski. “The parents I was working for at the time, their pool cracked down the middle.” 

The disaster caused millions in damage to businesses and homes and ruptured a natural gas pipeline. 

“With that kind of explosion, we were lucky that many more didn’t get hurt and die,” said Isquith. 

While PEPCON is now based in Utah and called American Pacific, the name PEPCON has a different meaning for many who have lived here for decades. 

“Everyone is, ‘where were you when PEPCON?’ If you are a Valley native, that is one thing you talk about,” explained Sokoloski. 

Despite the area having changed from what it looked like when the explosion happened and the company moving to a different state, people said it’s a memory that is hard to forget. 

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