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West Fertilizer Explosion: No Quick Decision On Cause

BJ Austin

State fire officials say they have not ruled out a criminal act as the cause of the April explosion at the West Fertilizer Company that killed 15 people. Investigators are looking a three possible causes: a golf cart battery, the plant's electrical system, and a criminal act.

Assistant State Fire Marshal Kelly Kistner briefed state lawmakers Monday morning.

"In the past four weeks we’ve had several pieces of information come forward, several leads that we’re working through," Kistner told the House Homeland Security and Public Safety committee. "In the interest of security, I don’t want to get into the specifics of the leads and the information, but we will be moving forward on those in the next couple of weeks.”

Kistner says that investigation is not tied to the pipe bomb materials found at the home of a former West paramedic.

Forensic tests on golf carts, like the one at the plant, and on ammonium nitrate are scheduled at the ATF's fire research lab in Maryland, but not until next year.

Meanshile, the state fire marshal is in the process of inspecting more than 140 companies in Texas. They each store at least five tons of ammonium nitrate.  The goal is to come up with an accurate count and location.

Fire Marshal Chris Connealy says that information will end up on an interactive map so the public will know where these fertilizer plants are by zip code.

“When you click on that icon, it’ll bring up the local first responders so a citizen can call them and get information about that facility,” Connealy told lawmakers.  

Launch date is set for November 1st.

Out of 62 companies visited so far, five refused to allow the inspection. 

Connealy explained that the inspections are voluntary because Texas has no state fire code that would give him access to the property. Those five companies are being referred to other agencies that do have inspection authority.     

Former KERA reporter BJ Austin spent more than 25 years in broadcast journalism, anchoring and reporting in Atlanta, New York, New Orleans and Dallas. Along the way, she covered Atlanta City Hall, the Georgia Legislature and the corruption trials of Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards.