Cause of Fire at West Fertilizer Co. Remains Unknown; Scene Investigation Complete

Investigators early this month look through the debris of the destroyed fertilizer plant in West, Texas (AP Photo/LM Otero) Investigators early this month look through the debris of the destroyed fertilizer plant in West, Texas (AP Photo/LM Otero)

After a month-long scene investigation, investigators still do not know what caused the fire that led to a massive explosion at the West Fertilizer Co. in Texas.

Authorities held a press conference late May 16 in West, Texas. They say they have narrowed the causes to several possibilities—crime among them—but they cannot be certain.

“At this time, the State Fire Marshal’s Office and the [Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives] are ruling the cause of the fire as undetermined,” says State Fire Marshal Chris Connealy.

He says the investigation remains open to conduct more interviews and follow leads. Over 200 leads were developed and 400 interviews were conducted thus far, say authorities.

More than 100 agents, investigators and experts have been on the scene since the fertilizer retailer exploded April 17 shortly after a fire was reported at the site.

Ammonium nitrate stored at the site was the trigger of the blast, authorities have concluded. Hundreds of tons of the highly-volatile chemical compound used to fertilize crops was stored at the site.

The force and shockwaves from the explosion, which registered as a 2.1-magnitude earthquake and left a crater in the ground, leveled some nearby homes and an apartment complex. It also severely damaged a retirement center and a middle school. The explosion killed 15 people, and hundreds were injured.

About 140 homes were damaged or destroyed. The Insurance Council of Texas puts insured losses for this disaster at about $100 million. The total includes insurance payments for West Fertilizer.

Adair Grain, parent company of West Fertilizer, has $1 million of liability insurance on the site—no excess or umbrella coverage. The coverage was provided by a subsidiary of Crum & Forster.

Subsidiaries of W.R. Berkley Corp. filed suit against Adair shortly after the blast, alleging negligence. The Berkley companies insured individuals, businesses and churches in the small, rural town of about 2,800.

Berkley’s attorney, Paul A. Grinke of McCathern in Dallas, previously told PC360 the lawsuit was filed in order to "have a judge to go to" for an order like an injunction if, for any reason, the insurers were not allowed on the site to conduct an investigation. Insurers needed to wait for authorities to complete their investigation before starting one of their own. Insurance teams have been allowed on the site, but only to take pictures, Grinke says.

Grinke could not immediately be reached for comment.

Robert Champion, ATF special agent in charge, says investigators ruled out many causes but several could not be eliminated: the electrical system, a golf cart and arson.

About a week ago the Texas Department of Public Safety said a criminal investigation has been launched into the explosion. The announcement came shortly after a West paramedic was arrested for possessing the ingredients of a pipe bomb. However, authorities have not linked the man to the explosion.

The ATF says it has spent nearly $1 million on the scene investigation--$500,000 on rentals of heavy equipment to excavate the facility.

The State Fire Marshal’s Office says it continues to investigate the deaths of a dozen firefighters who responded to the fire at the plant.

Comments

Resource Center

View All »

Complimentary White Paper: The Compression of Workplace Time

How brokers and carriers respond to the compression of workplace time will create significant competitive...

The Changing Insurance Consumer: 6 Ways to Create Profitable Relationships

Today’s mobile and web-savvy consumers have new expectations when it comes to interacting with your...

Contractors General Liability Coverage 102

What is a prior work exclusion? Which option is right for my client? Why do...

Sign up today to get a 50% matching credit -...

Insurance marketing sometimes seems like it's a game of swings and misses, but we're here...

Guide: 5 Steps to Selling Cyber

Cyber risk and data security is on the agenda of every business owner and executive....

Citation Correlation

Do rigger and signalperson qualifications correlate with the cause of crane and rigging accidents? ...

Complete Guide to Electronic Signatures in Property & Casualty Insurance...

In property and casualty insurance, closing new business quickly is key. Learn how to leverage...

INSTANT ACCESS: Complimentary Sales Closer Questionnaires

Help property owners or managers compare your commercial residential property insurance coverage vs. the competition....

Determining Vacant Property Perils and Valuations

Are your clients fully covered for Vacant Properties? In this economic climate, your insureds may...

Risk Management for Law Firms

This package of 3 concise risk management articles offers straightforward content and practical suggestions law...

Forensic Insider eNewsletter

Get investigative information and forensic insight to help you reach optimal claims outcomes – FREE. Sign Up Now!

Claims-Handling Guidelines

Claims Magazine is providing the following free guidelines and regulations in order to help adjusting professionals stay abreast of each state’s unique property and casualty claim-handling requirements.

View our State Guidelines »

Advertisement. Closing in 15 seconds.