The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and the Texas State Fire Marshal’s office revealed Wednesday that a fire that led to an explosion at a fertilizer plant in West Texas in 2013 was set on purpose, according to CNN.
The explosion killed 15 people, and a dozen of those killed were first responders. Around 200 were injured.
“These individuals were people serving their community in a volunteer capacity,” Robert Elder, special agent in charge of the ATF’s Houston field division, said on Wednesday. “They are true community servants. They lost their life serving their community and they deserve the best that we can give them.”
It took the ATF $2 million to conduct its investigation, and over 400 interviews were conducted, according to the Washington Post. No suspect has been revealed at this time, but the ATF seems confident it will solve the case.
The ATF knows to some degree of certainty that the fire was set on purpose, as it did extensive testing in a laboratory to be sure. A nursing home, schools, and homes were destroyed by the explosion the fire caused. Luckily, school was not in session at the time of the explosion.
The ATF has announced there is a $50,000 reward for any information that leads to the arrest of the arsonist. An organization called Crime Stoppers is also offering a $2,000 reward. Possible causes, such as a short-circuited golf cart or electric wiring, were previously considered but have now been ruled out, according to the Houston Chronicle.
The explosion happened 20 minutes after the fire started, and there was a 911 before the fire caused the explosion. The explosion happened in the town of West, which is located south of Dallas, Texas.
The ammonium nitrate in the fertilizer plant is what caused the explosion, and it appears the volunteers who responded to the initial call were not aware the substance could explode. In 2014, investigators made the claim the fire was preventable.
“The fire and explosion at West Fertilizer was preventable,” Rafael Moure-Eraso, chairman of the Chemical Safety Board, said at the time. “It should never have occurred. It resulted from the failure of a company to take the necessary steps to avert a preventable fire and explosion and from the inability of federal, state and local regulatory agencies to identify a serious hazard and correct it.”
The explosion the ATF investigated caused $230 million in damages overall. The fertilizer company that owned the plant is no longer in business. There are several court cases that are ongoing in connection with the explosion. The ATF finding the arsonist will certainly impact the court cases.
There have been many claims the plant was not operating to satisfactory standards. The Transportation Department’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration fined the company, West Fertilizer, over $5,000 in 2012 for not properly storing ammonia.
The EPA fined the company $2,300 for not filing a risk management plan when it was told to do so in 2006.
According to the ATF, some of those injured by the explosion experienced things like brain trauma and eye injuries. The ATF has expressed it wants to give the families of those killed and injured an “accurate explanation of what happened that day.”
The records in the ATF investigation show that West Fertilizer had not warned federal agencies that there were over 270 tons of ammonium nitrate at the fertilizer plant, but it appears state officials were aware of this. The blast caused by the 270 tons of ammonium nitrate created a 100-foot wide crater, and it caused a 2.1-magnitude earthquake.
Finding the arsonist may be difficult now that the case has been going on for three years, but the ATF appears to think it will catch this person.
[Photo by Erich Schlegel/Getty Images]