May 13, 2016 — Federal investigators have determined that the devastating fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas was caused by a fire that was intentionally set.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms has ruled out accidental causes, called it a “criminal act,” and offered a $50,000 reward for help finding the person who set the fire.
The announcement came as a surprise to many, but it is not hard to believe.
Dan Keeney, a spokesman for Adair Grain, the firm that owns West Fertilizer Co., said the property did not have security fencing around its perimeter. Shortly after the blast, he said:
“It was an operation that catered to the local agricultural community, whose habit was to be able to come in and help themselves after hours if they needed to.”
More than half of all facilities licensed in Texas to carry ammonium nitrate lack either secure fencing or storage areas, which the state does not consider a security risk, according to an investigation by the Dallas Morning News.
The fire broke out on April 17, 2013 at a plant owned by West Fertilizer Co. It burned for about 20 minutes before spreading to the massive stockpile of ammonium nitrate fertilizer. The explosion killed 15 people — including a dozen firefighters — and injured another 260 people nearby.
Meanwhile, the town is still rebuilding. More than half of the 160 homes that were destroyed have been rebuilt. A new nursing home was completed last summer. Construction is underway on a combined middle school and high school.
Many families have filed lawsuits against West Fertilizer Co., which went out of business. The first three plaintiffs settled out of court. Trials are expected later this year on behalf of a second group of plaintiffs, including two people who died and two others who were blinded.
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