Source: USA TODAY
Officials still do not know what caused the fire and dual explosions at the West Fertilizer Plant that killed 14 people, injured 200 and destroyed at least 50 homes.
State Fire Marshal Chris Connealy said at an afternoon news briefing that a month-long investigation has yet to yield an exact cause for the tragedy.
“This community has suffered a great tragedy,” he said. “The Fire Marshall’s office, ATF and 28 plus other agencies worked with one common goal to understand what happened so we can give closure to these families.”
He said the investigation continues.
Robert Champion, the ATF special agent in charge, said investigators have ruled out the possibility of an earlier fire, spontaneous ignition, smoking, weather or a 480 volt electrical system.
He said investigators have not ruled foul play, or a problem with a 120 volt electrical system.
The officials would not discuss the arrest of Bryce Reed, a volunteer paramedic and one of the first on the scene, who was arrested last week for possession of bomb making materials.
The Insurance Council of Texas estimates the damage to surrounding homes and businesses will exceed $100 million.
The blast rocked the ground with the force of a magnitude-2.1 earthquake that could be felt as far as 45 miles away. The explosion left a 90-foot wide, 10-foot deep crater and damaged homes, schools and a nursing home within a 37-block blast zone. Ten emergency responders were among the dead.
The tragedy took an unsettling twist when a volunteer paramedic who was among the first on the scene and helped evacuate people ahead of the explosion was arrested last week and charged with possession of a destructive device.
Bryce Reed pleaded not guilty Wednesday to a charge he possessed bomb-making materials.
He admitted that a “galvanized metal pipe” and accompanying explosive materials found on April 26 were his, a federal affidavit said. Firearms agents were alerted to the device when a resident of Abbott, Texas called them about a potentional explosive that the resident had “unwittingly taken possession of” from Reed, the affidavit said.
Reed became a well-known media figure after the explosion, talking at length about his relationship with Cyrus Reed, a first responder killed in the blast. Although the two weren’t related, Bryce Reed frequently referred to Cyrus as his “brother” during interviews and an emotional video played during the memorial for dead first responders at Baylor University.
In an interview with the Los Angeles Times a day after the explosion, Reed said that his best friend, an emergency worker, had also responded to the fire that preceded the blast.
Reed said he was ordered to go just south of the fire to take over as incident commander while his friend stayed at the scene of the blaze and was there when the explosion occurred.
“He was my best friend. He got me help through the crisis in my life. He’s my brother,” Reed told the Times.
Although Reed did not identify his friend by name in the article, he was later identified as Cyrus Reed. (The two are not related). A photo of the distraught paramedic attending a memorial service for the victims was widely circulated.
Reed gave a eulogy for Cyrus Reed. According to the Dallas Morning News, Reed has portrayed himself as Cyrus’ close friend.
In a video that aired at the memorial, Bryce Reed said Cyrus Reed lived life to the fullest, the Dallas Morning News reported. He said Cyrus Reed also loved fire and was known for backyard high jinks that included shooting BB guns at pressurized cans of processed cheese.
However, the paper quoted Cyrus Reed’s sister as saying her family had been “fooled by Bryce Reed.”
Sarah Reed told the paper her family have gone through Cyrus’ computer and cellphone records and it doesn’t appear the two were as close as Reed had led them to believe.
Reed has been a licensed EMT since 2005 and has worked for at least one other agency, an air ambulance service, state records show. No complaints have been lodged against him, and no disciplinary action has been taken, the records show.
Over 70 investigators from agencies including the State Fire Marshal’s Office and ATF took part in the investigation, according to the State Fire Marshall Office’s website. The two agencies developed more than 200 leads and conducted more than 400 interviews, the site said. Investigators said the origin of the fire was in the fertilizer and seed building and ammonium nitrate was the cause of the explosion.
Contributing: Associated Press