Thursday, May 16, 2013

Explosion cause at West Fertilizer Co. “undetermined”

Blast centered in seed and fertilizer room

West – As camera operators and reporterss from 19 broadcast outlets and at least 40 print media publications listened, the overall mood of the lawmen looking into the fire and explosion disaster at West was somber, their affect sober and extremely matter of fact.

The nation's top arson investigators, who have spent 20 thousand personal hours over a month's time and gone through a million dollar budget, excluding state and local officers staff time, have drawn a blank.

The cause of the fire and explosion that rocked a seismograph at Lake Whitney in two separate blasts milliseconds apart is considered undetermined at this time.

The quest is far from over.

The exhaustive process has considered 280 leads, examined 260 pieces of evidence, and the investigation is still ongoing, according to officials of the State Fire Marshal's Office and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, who will leave behind 18 investigators from multiple agencies for the duration – or, that is, until the matter is resolved.

In their labors, they have eliminated a spontaneous ignition, an anhydrous ammonium leak, smoking, a malfunction in the 480-volt electrical system that powered the plant's various conveyors and mixers, and a weather event.
The factors that have not been eliminated are a malfunction in the buildings' 120-volt electrical system, a possibly overcharged and exploded battery in a golf cart parked among the bins in the seed and fertilizer room – or an intentionally set fire.

A brake pad from the golf cart was found 2.5 miles distant, along with a piece of plastic determined to have been a part of the apparatus.

A clue to the intensity of the blast is that only two pieces of the golf cart have been found, both among items hurled the farthest from the blast's epicenter. They are thus considered to have come from the area nearest the center of the explosion.

Mr. Robert Champion. Special Agent in Charge of the Dallas ATF office, said authorities will not speculate that the arrest of former EMT Bryce Reed for possession of an explosive device had any connection to the explosion at the West Fertilizer Co.

Propelling the debris was a shock wave from the twin explosions – one smaller, the other larger, according to the seismograph – caused by the sudden ignitiion of 28 to 34 tons of ammonium nitrate with an equivalent blast power of 15 to 20 thousand pounds of TNT, according to Kelly Kistner, Assistant State Fire Marshal of the Texas Bureau of Insurance.

The explosion left untouched about 100 additional tons loaded on a rail car, as well as 20 to 30 tons in the building – all of it stored in wooden bins.

To make these determinations, investigators excavated a crater some 94 feet in diameter and 10 feet in depth, and used laser transits with GPS positioning capability that will in the months to come be used to construct a 3D model of the blast zone that may be viewed from all angles, rotated, and examined at will.

According to Agent Ryan Hoback, the information presented is the conclusion of the first phase of the investigation – the scene excavation.

The 30-day investigation ranks with that of the Oklahoma City bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Building or the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon.

Most ATF investigations last only 3 to 7 days, said Robert R. Champion of the ATF's Dallas office.

A correspondent from a national news network asked “Is that the best family and friends can expect – for now – or for the foreseeable future?”

An ATF agent bristled, attempted to answer, his voice grinding down to a halt, and the last question had been asked and answered.

Standing in the crowd, listening with intensity, Sheriff Parnell McNamara and Chief Deputy Matt Cawthon missed not a word.

Both have vowed to leave no stone unturned in their quest to find the cause and the reason for the tragedy at the West Fertilizer Co. which left 15 persons dead, hundreds injured, and even hundreds more homeless, searching for a solution to a terrible problem that appeared as suddenly and as violently as an afternoon thunderstorm.

Here's how fast it happened: At 7:29 p.m., the fire was reported; at 7:37 dispatchers sent first responders. They arrived at 7:38; at 7:41, the call went out for additional units, and at 7:51 the twin explosions rocked central Texas, hurling 15 souls into eternity - 12 of them first responders.

To hear an edited audio of the presentation, one need only click here:

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