Brian Mechell of West took this photograph of the fire before the explosion, which was forwarded to News 10 by Tara Gerik of West.
WEST (May 6, 2013)—The investigation into the fire and deadly explosion on April 17 at West Fertilizer Co. won’t be completed by Friday, but investigators are making headway in identifying the origin and cause, the Texas Department of Insurance said Monday.
Assistant State Fire Marshal Kelly Kistner told lawmakers during a hearing last Wednesday in Austin that the probe might be wrapped up by the end of this week, but the insurance department said Monday the investigation will take one or two weeks longer.
Investigators have determined that ammonium nitrate stored at the plant is what exploded, but State Fire Marshal's Office spokeswoman Rachel Moreno said they have not determined what touched off the ammonium nitrate.
Moreno said a spot that is now a 90-foot-wide crater was where the ammonium nitrate was stored.
Investigators have ruled out several possible causes of the initial fire at the plant that led to the explosion that killed 15, injured about 200, damaged or destroyed scores of homes and buildings including three of West’s four schools and a nursing home.
“Weather, natural, anhydrous ammonium, the rail car containing ammonium nitrate, and a fire within the ammonium nitrate bin” all have been eliminated as possible causes, the department said.
“Additionally, water used during firefighting activities did not contribute to the cause of the explosion,” the department said Monday.
“The investigation has revealed, to date, that the origin of the fire was in the fertilizer and seed building,” the insurance department said.
Investigators are trying to pinpoint the exact location, the department said.
To date, state and federal investigators have developed more than 230 leads that led to more than 400 interviews related to the blast, the department said.
As many as 70 investigators are involved daily in the probe, the department said.
Meanwhile more than 600 volunteers including hundreds from Texas A&M’s Corps of Cadets spent the weekend clearing trash and debris stacked on curbs by residents in the 37-block area affected by the blast.
The volunteers carted off an estimated 100 tons of debris, city officials said.