Residents of West, Texas, a farming community 70 miles south of Dallas, say they just wish it would all end.
Those sentiments were expressed by many local residents and officials to a swarm of reporters who once again converged on the community Wednesday after Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) investigators dropped another bombshell on the community when they announced that a tragic fertilizer plant explosion three years ago was intentionally "caused as a result of arson."
The explosion, which destroyed 500 homes in the small town of 2,300, resulted in the death of 15 people and additional injuries to at least 200 other residents, leaving a crater 93 feet wide and over 12 feet deep.
The explosion occurred April 17, 2013. Three years later and after 400 exhaustive interviews by state and federal officials, word that the blast may have been intentional has opened old wounds.
For the latest on southwest agriculture, please check out Southwest Farm Press Daily and receive the latest news right to your inbox.
ATF Special Agent in Charge Robert Elder said Wednesday that comprehensive lab work and an investigation spanning more than three years brought investigators to the conclusion that the fire that caused the blast was no accident.
The ATF is offering up to $50,000 for information leading to the arrest of the person or persons responsible for the fire and the resulting explosion.
Elder stopped short of saying whether investigators have a specific suspect(s) in mind, and indicated the investigation "is ongoing."
Authorities say the massive explosion at the plant was “unprecedented,” and contributed the size and power of the explosion to 270 tons of highly volatile ammonium nitrate on the site. Federal officials had cited the fertilizer plant twice in the past for having such exceptionally large quantities of the chemical on site.
Following the tragedy, a federal inquiry by the U.S. Chemical Safety Board concluded the explosion was "preventable" and placed the primary blame on state and federal regulators who failed to take action to prevent the plant from storing such excessive amounts of the volatile chemical.
The blast destroyed not only homes but schools and businesses across the community and was powerful enough to register a 2.1 on the Richter scale. In all, some 37 blocks within the community were destroyed or heavily damaged by the blast.
Of the 15 who died in the blast, an even dozen were first responders who had arrived to fight the fire and care for the injured.