Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives
Houston Field Division
For Immediate Release
May 16, 2013
Contact: Franceska Perot, ATF
Rachel Moreno, SFMO
ATF and the State Fire Marshal’s Office Conclude Scene Investigation at the West Fertilizer Plant
Fire Ruled as Undetermined
WEST, TX — The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) National Response Team (NRT) along with ATF Special Agents from the Houston Field Division and the Texas State Fire Marshal’s Office (SFMO) are announcing the conclusion of the scene investigation at the West Fertilizer Plant fire and explosion that occurred on April 17, 2013. All agencies are in agreement that the fire has been ruled "undetermined."
"At this time, the State Fire Marshal’s Office and the ATF are ruling the cause of the fire as undetermined," said State Fire Marshal Chris Connealy. According to Connealy, an undetermined cause finding is made "when the cause cannot be proven to an acceptable level of certainty, which could be due to insufficient information or if multiple causes could not be eliminated. Connealy further stated that "while the scene examination has been completed, the investigation will remain open for purposes of conducting additional interviews, following up on leads, and the like."
Robert Champion, ATF Special Agent in Charge, said, "ATF and SFMO have eliminated the following causes: rekindling of an earlier fire, spontaneous ignition, 480 volt electrical system, anhydrous ammonia, ammonium nitrate, smoking, and weather. The following causes could not be eliminated: 120 volt electrical system, the golf cart itself, and an intentionally set fire."
ATF and the SFMO worked together to find the origin and cause of the fire and explosion for almost four weeks. More than 104 agents, investigators and experts were on scene, more than 280 leads were developed and more than 500 interviews were conducted. ATF spent approximately $500,000 in the rental of heavy equipment, which assisted in excavating the scene. As part of scene excavation, investigators and agents sifted through 300,000 pounds of corn searching for evidence. Additionally, the fertilizer and seed building and the electrical system were reconstructed.
ATF and SFMO would like to extend our deepest appreciation to the citizens of West, the volunteers and nonprofit agencies who supported us during this investigation. Additionally, ATF and SFMO would like to recognize all of the agencies that assisted in the investigation. There were more than 30 law enforcement and regulatory agencies that were integral to the conclusion of the scene investigation.
This investigation was lead by ATF and SFMO with the assistance of the West Police Department, McLennan County Sheriff’s Office, McLennan County District Attorney’s Office, Texas Department of Public Safety – DPS Criminal Intelligence Division, Texas Rangers, U.S. Attorney’s Office, Western District, the Environmental Protection Agency, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, Texas Department Insurance – Fraud Unit, Texas Department of Emergency Management, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Texas Parks and Wildlife, Texas Office of State Chemist, Waco Fire Marshal, Hill County Sheriff’s Office, Texas Task Force I/II – Texas Engineering Extension, Drug Enforcement Administration, Federal Bureau of Investigation, US Postal Police, National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, Texas Forest Service, Lake Jackson Fire Marshal’s Office, Chemical Safety Board, Harker Heights Police Department, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Union Pacific Rail Road, Department of Homeland Security, and the U. S. Army Corp of Engineers.