On Wednesday, the Houston Field Division of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and the Texas State Fire Marshal Office announced that the fire which caused a massive explosion at the West Fertilizer Company in West, Texas was intentionally set.
The 2013 fire and subsequent explosion killed 15 people, including 10 firefighters and two volunteers who were helping to combat the initial blaze, and three members of the public. In addition, over 260 people were injured and several buildings were destroyed. The explosion happened when a fire ignited the fertilizer-grade ammonium nitrate that was stored at the facility. The ammonium nitrate detonated, causing a blast that registered as a 2.1 magnitude earthquake.
NFPA Journal® previously covered the explosion in the March/April 2014 NFPA Journal cover story detailing the explosion and the response to it from NFPA and other organizations. In the months following the incident, U.S. agencies involved with chemical storage safety have looked to NFPA to better understand what transpired at West Fertilizer. NFPA’s Technical Committee on Hazardous Chemicals worked with the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) and other organizations to incorporate lessons learned from the explosion into the 2016 edition of NFPA 400, Hazardous Materials Code.
NFPA 400 covers the storage, handling, and use of many hazardous chemicals. Of those chemicals, ammonium nitrate is the only one to have its own chapter in the code. While the code does not specifically address criminal intent, there are security requirements that limit access to authorized personnel only. A detailed overview of the changes made to the 2016 edition of NFPA 400 can be found in the “Safer Storage” article in the May/June 2015 issue of NFPA Journal.
In 2013, the Ammonium Nitrate Task Group was formed to review the requirements in NFPA 400 to ensure that the code requirements were clear and to add requirements such as sprinklers and public notification to provide additional protection.
CSB released their report on the explosion in January of this year. In it, they called the explosion “one of the most destructive incidents ever investigated” by the CSB in terms of loss of life, injury and property damage.
Although the ATF will not release their final report while the investigation is ongoing, officials said they are confident they are on their way to identifying those responsible. No arrests have been made.