Authorities have revealed the latest details of the ongoing investigation into what caused a fire and explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas last month. The April 17th blast left 14 people dead and hundreds injured.
While the source of the blast is still undetermined, officials from the State Fire Marshal's Office and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said criminal activity such as arson cannot be ruled out at this time. Other possible causes of the explosion include a faulty, battery-powered golf cart and electrical problems at the fertilizer plant building.
"This rates up there with the Oklahoma City bombing and with the first World Trade and the Pentagon."
Spontaneous ignition, ammonium nitrate, smoking and weather were all ruled out as causing the fire and resulting explosions.
It was previously believed that only one blast occurred but seismic data shows two explosions within milliseconds of each other.
On May 9, former West Emergency Services worker Bryce Reed was arrested on federal charges of possession of a destructive device.
"At this time, authorities will not speculate whether the possession of an unregistered destructive device has any connection to the West fertilizer explosion on April 17," an official said as he declined to take any questions on the matter, citing the pending criminal investigation.
Reed pled not guilty to the charges on May 15 and his detention hearing set for the same day has been postponed indefinitely. Reed, 31, remains jailed in McLennan County.
ATF officials have been working the site of explosion for nearly a month, employing the services of Texas Rangers, the McClennan County Sheriff's Office and district attorney's office, the Texas State Fire Marshal and others. The blast caused damage to a 37-block area with the farthest piece of evidence found two and a half miles away from the plant.
"This rates up there with the Oklahoma City bombing and with the first World Trade and the Pentagon," a State Fire Marshal official said, adding that average blast investigations last about a week.
Officials have collected 250 pieces of evidence, looked into 280 leads and interviewed more than 500 people. Law enforcement specialists in forensic mapping, chemical analysis, forensic audits and aerial photography have all been involved in the investigation.
"From the beginning of this investigation, [all of the law enforcement agencies involved] have maintained that this is a criminal investigation," said another official with the State Fire Marshall's Office. "Investigators to this day continue their work under the authority of two state district court evidentiary warrants."