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What Sparked The Explosion In West Undetermined: Investigation Of Scene Closed

Federal officials in the town of West will not speculate as to whether the arrest and indictment of first responder Bryce Reed has any connection to the explosion there last month. Officials are done examining the scene of the blast, but the investigation continues.

After thirty days of sifting through debris covering at least fourteen acres, investigators gathered in the parking lot of West’s High School, just across the street from the explosion that killed fifteen people and left hundreds of houses destroyed.

And they seemed to have a better idea of what didn’t cause the fire than what did. Some of the causes they were able to rule out were smoking, ammonium nitrate and the weather.

What could not be eliminated was the building’s 120-volt electrical system, an intentional criminal act, or a battery-powered golf cart parked in the fertilizer and seed building where the fire started.

Fire Marshal Kelly Kristner said that combing through the 93-foot-wide crater and surrounding 37-block area affected required extraordinary efforts.  

"Over 300,000 pounds of corn from one silo were sifted by hand in order to collect evidence," he said.

Officials conducted forensic mapping, aerial photography, even 3-d rendering to try and piece together what happened. Kristner says the Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) team alone spent at least one million dollars on the investigation.

Robert Champion, is a Special Agent with the Dallas Division of the ATF said his response team responds to call outs for help across the country, but the length of this investigation stands out.

"This ranks up with the Oklahoma city bombing, with the first World Trade, with the Pentagon.”

While the examination of the scene is over, officials say agents will stay in West to continue with the rest of the investigation.

Gloria Ramos came to this parking lot with her mother and daughter to hear the news. She may never return to her house, she points to what remains just down the street.

“I grew up in that house; my daughter grew up in that house. It’s going to be hard.”

Ramos says when, and if, a cause is determined, it might provide some closure, but there’s no way it will bring back what’s been lost. 

Lauren Silverman was the Health, Science & Technology reporter/blogger at KERA News. She was also the primary backup host for KERA’s Think and the statewide newsmagazine  Texas Standard. In 2016, Lauren was recognized as Texas Health Journalist of the Year by the Texas Medical Association. She was part of the Peabody Award-winning team that covered Ebola for NPR in 2014. She also hosted "Surviving Ebola," a special that won Best Long Documentary honors from the Public Radio News Directors Inc. (PRNDI). And she's won a number of regional awards, including an honorable mention for Edward R. Murrow award (for her project “The Broken Hip”), as well as the Texas Veterans Commission’s Excellence in Media Awards in the radio category.