West, TX — The cause of the West fertilizer blast that killed 15 people and injured hundreds was declared “undetermined” on Thursday. Authorities have yet to find the reason why the town’s fertilizer plant exploded on April 17.
Investigators have searched through the remains of the plant, moved tons of debris, and conducted more than 400 interviews. But they have yet to find the missing piece of evidence that shows why the plant blew a massive crater in the ground last month.
The cause of the blast has been narrowed down to three possibilities: a problem with one of the plant’s electrical systems, a battery-powered golf cart, or a criminal act. They have already ruled out several other possibilities, including someone smoking and a rail car on site loaded with fertilizer.
Kelly Kistner, the Texas assistant state fire marshal, explained that the West fertilizer blast was actually made up of two explosions. The first was small and happened about 20 minutes after the fire was reported. The second, much larger, blast happened a split second later when about 20 to 34 tons of ammonium nitrate stored in the plant ignited.
Another 28 to 30 tons stored on site, along with a rail car carrying roughly 100 tons of the hazardous chemical, did not explode. Kistner added of the investigation, “It’s like taking a large puzzle, putting it on the coffee table and trying to put the pieces back together, but you don’t know if the pieces are all there to begin with.”
Most of those who were killed in the West fertilizer plant explosion were firefighters and paramedics responding to the initial fire. The town of West has just 2,000 people and volunteer firefighters.
Both blasts happened because of ammonium nitrate, a dry fertilizer. The small explosion produced enough heat and shock to make the remaining fertilizer inside the storage building to explode. Kistner added, “To put this in a different perspective, the ammonium nitrate that exploded was equivalent to approximately 15,000 to 20,000 pounds of TNT.”
State officials have already announced a criminal probe into the West fertilizer plant blast.