COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – Former PRCA bareback rider William “Buck” Uptmor was among the 14 people who were killed – most of them first responders – in the explosion that destroyed a fertilizer plant in West, Texas, late on April 17.
Uptmor, 44, was trying to help a friend by getting some horses out of a pasture near the plant when the building exploded, injuring 200 people and leveling a five-block area of the town.
Also lost in the blast were West volunteer firefighters Robert and Doug Snokhous, who are cousins of former PRCA bull rider Gary Snokhous. Sixty people are still listed as missing.
Uptmor’s nephew Reagan Uptmore, 17, told the San Antonio Express-News that his uncle was the kind of man who always helped out in emergencies and was among the first to respond when word spread that there was a fire at the West Fertilizer Company.
“He went in at the wrong time,” Reagan Uptmore said. “He was a cowboy and he died with his boots on. He would do anything for anybody. He would swim across the ocean to help you.”
The former rodeo contestant, who won checks at Texas PRCA rodeos in Fort Worth, Hearne and Fairfield in 1990 while a permit holder, was well known in West, a community of about 2,800. He coached youth baseball and was on the board of the West Fair and Rodeo Association.
He was the drummer in the family band, Billy Uptmor and the Makers.
“You could look in the West phone book and literally pick any number, and they would know him,” family friend Shelly Moore told the Dallas Morning News.
Six-time National Finals Rodeo qualifier Larry Ferguson lives 5.7 miles southwest of the blast site and says he lost five or six friends to the explosion, including Uptmor, whom he had known since he moved to West 18 years ago from Oklahoma.
“Buck gave me my first job out of rodeo,” Ferguson said. “I worked for him for about eight months, building fences, porches. He was the guy in town you called if you needed casino online a job done like that. Everybody in town knew him.
“We were far enough away from the explosion that we (the Ferguson family) were all OK, but it affects us because we know those people. We know some of the first responders who died and we had a lot of good friends who lost their homes.”
Uptmor is survived by his wife, daughter and two sons.
A memorial website has been posted on Facebook (www.facebook.com/WestFirefighters#!/WestFirefighters) to honor those killed or injured in the blast. Country music legend Willie Nelson is donating all proceeds from an upcoming concert in Austin, Texas, to the West Volunteer Fire Department, according to a press statement released April 18.
Justin Maass, the 2012 tie-down roping reserve world champion, pledged to donate his earnings at the Bryan (Texas) Breakfast Lions Club PRCA Rodeo to the West relief fund and he ended up earning a share of first place ($1,195). When he tweeted about his plan before the rodeo, he asked people to consider matching his contribution.
“Two guys tweeted back and said they were in,” Maass said, “so we’re sending about $3,600 to West. The offer is still out there … anybody who wants to put up matching funds is encouraged to do that. They need the help down there.”
Monetary donations may be mailed to Pointwest Bank, 200 W. Oak St., or the State National Bank, 100 N. Main St. in West, or can be delivered online at www.pointwestbank.com via PayPal. Donations can be specifically targeted to several entities: Victims of the West Explosion General Fund, West Independent School District, Knights of Columbus and the West Rest Haven Nursing Home, which suffered extensive damage and had to evacuate 133 residents.