The West fertilizer explosion that killed 15 people and injured dozens in April 2013 was intentional, officials said.
“The fire has been ruled as incendiary; this means this fire was a criminal act,” said Rob Elder, special agent in charge of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ Houston Field Division.
The fire in West, TX, originated in the West Fertilizer Company’s fertilizer seed building, Elder said.
He did not elaborate on the source of ignition or if any accelerant was used.
The fire and eventual explosion covered a 37-square-block area, destroyed more than 500 homes and left a crater 93 feet wide and 12 feet deep at the site of the blast. Items of evidence were recovered as far away as 2.5 miles, Elder said.
He said officials “hypothesized, considered, tested and eliminated” all “reasonable, accidental and natural fire scenarios” before drawing their conclusion.
Bryce Reed, a paramedic for West EMS who helped evacuate residents before the blast, was found to be in possession of bomb-making materials in the days after the explosion. Investigators, however, found no evidence linking him to the fertilizer blast. After undergoing a psychiatric evaluation, Reed was sentenced to 21 months in prison in the unrelated pipe bomb case.
Elder reiterated Wednesday that Reed is not a suspect in the West explosion.
“He pled guilty to charges. He did his time and, to my knowledge, he served his time and is back out. We do not consider him a suspect in this case,” Elder said.
The U.S. Chemical Safety Board and the state fire marshal’s office previously issued reports faulting the storage of the fertilizer, emergency response and other factors in contributing to the blast, which registered as an earthquake of magnitude 2.1.
Elder said the investigation into the ammonium nitrate explosion is one of the largest fire investigations ever undertaken by the ATF. Investigators have spent more than $2 million so far, some of which went to fund the scale reproduction of a portion of the West Fertilizer Co. plant to try to determine exactly what took place.
The families of the victims from the fertilizer plant explosion were called to a meeting by federal investigators Wednesday morning to hear the news that the fire and explosion that killed their loved ones was not an accident.
Throughout the investigation, officials conducted more than 400 interviews, completed a fire scene examination, reviewed video and performed extensive scientific testing at the ATF Fire Research Lab in Maryland.
Elder added a full report on the blast will not release until the conclusion of the criminal case.