West, Texas Blast Was Caused By an Arsonist, Electrical Short or Golf Cart, Officials Say

StateFireMarshalWestTxas.jpeg
NBC 5
State Fire Marshal Chris Connealy at this afternoon's press conference.
The Morning News broke the news this morning that officials had narrowed the cause of last month's deadly West, Texas fertilizer plant explosion to one of three things: a golf cart, an electrical short, or criminal activity. That wasn't terribly narrow, but there was a press conference scheduled this afternoon, so we thought investigators might be more specific.

They didn't.

"The cause of this fire is undetermined," State Fire Marshal Chris Connealy told reporters, explaining that fire investigators make that ruling when a "cause cannot be proven to an acceptable level of certainty because of insufficient information or when multiple causes can't be eliminated."

Several causes have been ruled out. The fire wasn't caused by a rekindle as had been speculated, because there was no earlier fire. It also wasn't spontaneous, nor was it caused by the 480-volt electrical system.

That leaves the complex's 120-volt electrical system, a golf cart, or arson.

Investigators with the State Fire Marshal's office and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms pointedly declined to speculate on the latter or the potential role of former EMT Bryce Reed, charged with possessing a pipe bomb, saying the criminal investigation is ongoing.

They were more forthcoming about the golf cart. "There is a history of golf carts starting fires," ATF investigator Robert Champion said, explaining that their batteries store a good deal of charge and have been known to malfunction. So far, they've only found the vehicle's brake pad and axle. "We don't have enough pieces of the golf cart nor do we have enough pieces of the building that would have been around the golf cart to eliminate that."

However the fire started, the explosion happened not long after. Firefighters were called to the fire at 7:29 p.m. and arrived nine minutes later. By 7:51 p.m., the heat from the fire had caused the ammonium nitrate, stacked in wooden crates in the seed building, to change states and become unstable. It was the shock from falling machinery that triggered the first explosion, which triggered a second explosion millliseconds later.

The ammonium nitrate that exploded was only a fraction of what blast carried the force of 15,000-20,000 tons of TNT. The damage extended a half mile. Evidence was discovered as far as two-and-a-half miles away. The resulting crater measured 10 feet deep by 93 feet wide.

It was there that investigators focused their efforts, excavating the area much like archaeologists would. They reconstructed the seed building and its electrical systems as best they could, then moved outward. During the course of their investigation, they sifted through ton upon ton of corn and milo kept in nearby silos.

There was also forensic mapping, chemical analysis, forensic audits, aerial photography, computer modeling, and other efforts that cost the ATF well more than $1 million. And that number is only going to increase as the investigation continues.

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19 comments
BettyC1
BettyC1

Arsonist,and I think they know it and that the Guy is already in jail!

ChrisYu
ChrisYu

Observer commenters already narrowed it down to Rick Perry.

John1073
John1073

It could have been a blow torch, an RV, or a peach kolache.

ozonelarryb
ozonelarryb

Sounds like Ricky used the same crack team that did the Willingham investigation.

observist
observist topcommenter

They've narrowed it down to an electrical short or arson... meaning they've finally eliminated lightning as  the cause.   I wonder if a cow kicking over a lantern is considered arson?

Ms. Moxie
Ms. Moxie

What if it was an arsonist...wait for it...WITH a golfcart!

ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul
ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul topcommenter

Umm, Eric, would you please do a little fact checking ... Wasn't there 570 tons of Ammonium nitrate stored?  If it detonated it would not have detonated with the force of 15,000 to 20,000 tons of TNT, pounds maybe but definitely not tons.


For comparison, 15,000 to 20,000 tons would be expressed in kilotons or 15 to 20 Kt of TNT, or on the order of the "Fat Boy"  and "Little Boy" atomic bombs.


If this were the case, your crater would be significantly larger and West would no longer be on the map.

Blake Wilson
Blake Wilson

Well then that would make it look like they don't know what happened. Well...wait...never mind.

ozonelarryb
ozonelarryb

?????     near end.    The ammonium nitrate that exploded was only a fraction of what blast carried the force of 15,000-20,000 tons of TNT.    ?????

Brian Chestnut
Brian Chestnut

How stupid. Would have been easier and more professional to just admit.... "We have no idea what happened yet.

Tyler Atnip
Tyler Atnip

Probably a guy sitting on the golf cart out back smoking and threw the ciggarette on the ground. In a blast of this magnitude it would honestly be impossible to tell without security or other footage. Has anyone reviewed civilian footage of the fire to see if anyone is hanging around trying to put it out?

Joe Downey
Joe Downey

Well I think it was an arson driving a Golf Cart that caught fire from an electrical short.

Blake Wilson
Blake Wilson

Make arson illegal, ban electrical shorts* and golf carts. *I'm old school, I wear non-electrical shorts.

Scott Strong
Scott Strong

Well! That certainly narrows it down. Great police work, Lou!

primi_timpano
primi_timpano topcommenter

I read elsewhere that 20 tons or so exploded but another 100 tons was stored in a freight car and did not explode.

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