WEST, Texas - A deadly 2013 fertilizer plant blast in West, Texas was a criminal act, investigators said Wednesday.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives made the stunning announcement during a press conference Wednesday afternoon. The ATF said the initial fire which caused the blast was “incendiary,” meaning it was set.
"We have eliminated all reasonable accidental and natural causes," said special agent Robert Elder. "This was a criminal act."
The fire at the West Fertilizer Company was reported 18 minutes before the facility exploded on April 17, 2013. The ammonium nitrate blast killed 15 people, including 10 first responders and two volunteers who had gone to the location to fight the flames. In addition, 200 people were injured.
The explosion stripped the roof, walls and windows off a nearby apartment complex and dozens of other homes and buildings were severely damaged or destroyed. It registered as a 2.1 magnitude earthquake on seismograph equipment and left behind a crater at the plant nearly 100 feet wide and 10 feet deep.
On the first anniversary of the explosion an investigation by the U.S. Chemical Safety Board concluded that the blast was preventable. That report also placed blame for the explosion on the fertilizer company, as well as federal, state and local regulators who investigators said had not taken necessary safety precautions.
Federal regulators had previously issued a report that found inadequate emergency response coordination and training and careless storage of potentially explosive materials contributed to the blast. The U.S. Chemical Safety Board adopted recommendations that federal regulators set higher standards for safe handling and storage of fertilizer-grade ammonium nitrate.
The ATF said it never stopped investigating the case and interviewed more than 400 people. The only hypothesis that couldn't be eliminated was that the fire was intentional. Now that hypothesis has been confirmed.
There is a $52,000 available in rewards for information and tips that lead to those responsible for the deadly fire.