ARA: Cause Of West Fertilizer Incident Evades Officials

At a press conference held yesterday evening by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and the Texas State Fire Marshal’s Office, authorities reported that the cause of the fire at the West Texas Fertilizer Facility remains undetermined at this time. They did report on causes of the fire that have been eliminated and causes that have not been eliminated in their investigation.

Media coverage resulting from the press conference at this point seems to be focused on the fact that criminal activity has not been ruled out as a cause of this incident. Officials emphasized the fact that the investigation is still ongoing. ARA will continue to monitor developments regarding this investigation.

Causes of the fire eliminated:

  • Rekindling.
  • Spontaneous ignition (480 system).
  • Anhydrous Ammonia.
  • Ammonium Nitrate.
  • Smoking.
  • Weather.

Causes of the fire that have not been eliminated:

  • 120 Volt electrical system.
  • Golf cart (battery powered, able to cause a fire) in the seed and fertilizer building.
  • Intentionally set fire.

Note: The Texas Rangers and McLennan County Sheriff’s Office last week opened a criminal investigation into the blast. So far, officials have revealed no connection between Bryce Reed’s arrest and the opening of the criminal investigation. Although they are not able to rule that possibility out at this time.

Additional Notes Regarding the Facility and the Investigation

These points were also reported during yesterday’s news conference:

  • The missing persons list from the explosion is now zero. No individuals are unaccounted for at this time.
  • More than 28 other agencies are also investigating the incident.
  • The origin of fire was determined to be in the fertilizer and seed building.
  • The fire sparked two explosions that were “milliseconds” apart. This was recorded by a seismograph.
  • As the fire caused the temperature to increase, pressure increased and the AN sensitivity to shock increased. Debris falling on the AN also could have led to explosion.
  • 28-34 Tons of AN exploded, equivalent to 15,000 – 20,000 lbs of TNT.
  • An additional 20-30 tons of AN was in building and did not explode.
  • 100 tons of AN on a rail car nearby also did not explode.
  • It is estimated that 150 tons of AN were on site at time of incident, less than the 270 tons reported on the Tier 2 report.

Click here to read a press release issued by ATF on yesterday’s press conference.

A press release from the Texas State Fire Marshal’s office is available here.

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