"I could see a cloud coming up and mushrooming like an atomic bomb, and I thought what in the world is this," said James Burris, the former Chief Deputy.
POLK COUNTY, Tenn. — May 27, 1983 is a day Polk County residents will never forget.
James Burris remembers the historic disaster all too well.
“I go out to Welcome Valley Road, and then as I approach the scene, I could see it was something bad," said Burris.
Burris was the first officer to arrive on scene at Webb's Bait Farm.
He heard the continuous explosions, thinking it was ammunition.
He quickly learned it was much more than that.
"I said ma’am what is going off? She said it’s firework. At that point I knew exactly what I had. I got on my radio and started calling for backup," said Burris.
Webb's Bait Farm was known by community members as the place to get your fishing essentials.
No one knew they were making fireworks though.
“Somebody would come out and meet you. They’d sell you the bait and you’d be on your way. You had no idea what was going on up there," said Burris.
11 people lost their lives that day.
Josh Freeman lost his great uncle, great aunt, and mother in the explosion.
He was just two years old at the time.
“I always knew growing up that something was missed. The person who was supposed to care about you the most," said Josh Freeman.
It's a missing piece of a puzzle that he has tried to solve through his own research.
“I always knew growing up that something was missed. The person who was supposed to care about you the most," said Freeman.
Now, 40 years later, it's hard to imagine this powerful explosion ever occurred.
“It doesn’t seem like it was 40 years because I can relive it in my mind just like it was yesterday," said Burris.
Although this is a painful memory for many, it's a chance to reflect on the supportive community Polk County has to offer.