Ammonium nitrate was to blame for the explosion at West Fertilizer Co., which killed 14 people including 10 firefighters. The blast also injured more than 200 people and destroyed dozens of homes.
The fire that led to the explosion began in the storage building, though it wasn’t in the exact same spot where the volatile chemical was stored.
However, the fire eventually reached the ammonium nitrate tanks, triggering the explosion, which left behind a 93-foot-wide crater. Investigators have searched through the surrounding areas and are now focusing their attention on the debris inside the crater.
Brian Hoback, national response team supervisor for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, explained, “You have a building where fertilizer and seed are stored in there. The fire was contained to that one building.”
More than 60 agents from 29 agencies have checked 237 leads and interviewed over 411 people in the hope of finding out what happened to cause the West Fertilizer explosion. They started by searching through the outermost perimeter of the blast, meaning they collected debris from as far away as two-and-a-half miles.
While investigators haven’t yet discovered the cause of the fire in the storage building, they have ruled out several things, including natural events like lightning strikes. Kelly Kistner, assistant State Fire Marshal, added that nothing responding firefighters did caused the explosion. Foul play and a possible electrical fire have not been ruled out.
Sifting through the remaining evidence has been a difficult and tedious process, but the agencies hope to wrap up the initial phase of their investigation in the next week or two. Hoback explained, “Some of the pieces of the puzzle were completely destroyed. Some were blown as far as 3,000 feet away.”
While investigators continue searching for the cause of the fire at West Fertilizer Co., federal emergency officials have started offering shelter for resident of West, Texas whose homes were destroyed in the deadly blast. Roughly 70 homes were either damaged beyond repair or completely destroyed in the explosion.
State records show that West Fertilizer Co. had 270 tons of ammonium nitrate on site as of last year.
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