IN DEPTH: Details on cause of West fire

IN DEPTH: Details on cause of West fire
IN DEPTH: Details on cause of West fire
Posted at 12:45 AM, May 11, 2016
and last updated 2018-07-24 21:30:09-04

On Wednesday afternoon, federal investigators announced the cause of the fire at the West Fertilizer Company in April of 2013 that occurred before the explosion, was incendiary, a criminal act.

The fire, which started in the feed seed building, prompted an explosion, which killed 15 people, including 12 emergency responders, and injured hundreds. The blast caused damage in a 37 square block area, destroying 500 homes, according to the ATF. Several businesses and schools were severely damaged by the explosion.

At the time of the incident, stockpiles of nearly 40 to 60 tons fertilizer grade of ammonium nitrate were estimated to be on site and nearly 30 tons detonated, according to the CSB, according to the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board final investigation report on the West Fertilizer Company Fire and Explosion. 

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco Firearms and Explosives reached this conclusion regarding the cause of the fire after conducting more than 400 interviews, extensive scientific testing at the ATF’s research lab in Maryland and viewing witnesses’ photographs and video.  

"All reasonable, accidental and natural fire scenarios were hypothesized, considered, tested and eliminated as being fire causes,” said ATF Special Agent in Charge of the Houston Field Division Robert Elder.

The only hypothesis that couldn’t be eliminated and was later confirmed by extensive testing was incendiary, according to Elder. Earlier in the investigation, a battery-powered golf cart, an electrical problem at the plant or the fire being intentionally set were considered three possible causes of the fire.

Elder did not specify whether the ATF had any suspects in mind. He just said they were heading in the right direction.

No arrests have been made in this case but Elder said the more than 400 interviews have produced many leads. At this time, a motive behind the intentionally set fire is unknown.

"We don't know what they intended to do. We know that a fire was intentionally set and so we know a crime was committed so now we have a criminal act,” said Elder.

A suspect or suspects, if arrested could face state or federal charges.

Elder and McLennan County District Attorney Abel Reyna who both spoke during the news conference in West offered their condolences several times to the families of the victims.

"One thing is for sure, no words that come from this podium today will fill the void left in their hearts and in their souls,” Reyna said.

Elder said the highest priority for his agency was to provide an accurate explanation of what happened that day to the victims’ families.

"They were true community servants. They lost their lives serving the community and they deserve the best that we can give them,” said Elder.

The ATF is now offering a $50,000 reward for information that can lead to an arrest. In addition, the Waco Crime Stoppers are offering a $2,000 reward.

If you have any information, contact Waco Crime Stoppers at 254-753-4357.

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