Authorities Still Don't Know What Caused the West, Texas, Plant Explosion

The Slatest
Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
May 17 2013 11:29 AM

Authorities Still Don't Know What Caused the West, Texas, Plant Explosion

166943925
Valley Mills Fire Department personnel view the railroad tracks near to the fertilizer plant that exploded on April 18, 2013, in West, Texas.

Photo by Erich Schlegel/Getty Images

Officials still don't know what caused last month's massive explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas, despite weeks of collecting evidence—300,000 pounds of corn were sifted through by hand—and a $1 million investigation.

The blast, which killed 14 people and injured more than 200 on April 17, was triggered by a fire that was reported 20 minutes before the explosion. Though four causes for the blaze were ruled out at the beginning of the investigation, state and federal officials haven't made much progress since then. As of Thursday, the cause of the fire was officially ruled "undetermined"—with foul play still a possibility. However, authorities are hesitant to make any bold statements, as Reuters notes:

Robert Champion, a special agent in charge at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said that while authorities could not rule out arson, they also could not eliminate the plant's electrical system or a golf cart at the plant as potential causes.
Advertisement

The cause of the fire will remain officially "undetermined" if not enough evidence is available to eliminate multiple causes.

But while the scene investigation may be complete, the criminal investigation is just beginning. Last week, law officials announced that they launched a criminal probe in their investigation on the very same day they arrested Bryce Reed, a 31-year-old paramedic who was among the first to respond to the explosion, for possessing pipe bomb-making materials. Reed pleaded not guilty to the charges on Wednesday. At this time, authorities won't comment on whether they believe there is any connection between Reed and the explosion.

Jennifer Lai is an associate editor at Slate.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

The Irritating Confidante

John Dickerson on Ben Bradlee’s fascinating relationship with John F. Kennedy.

My Father Invented Social Networking at a Girls’ Reform School in the 1930s

Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

The All The President’s Men Scene That Captured Ben Bradlee

Medical Examiner

Is It Better to Be a Hero Like Batman?

Or an altruist like Bruce Wayne?

Technology

Driving in Circles

The autonomous Google car may never actually happen.

The World’s Human Rights Violators Are Signatories on the World’s Human Rights Treaties

How Punctual Are Germans?

  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 22 2014 12:44 AM We Need More Ben Bradlees His relationship with John F. Kennedy shows what’s missing from today’s Washington journalism.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 21 2014 5:57 PM Soda and Fries Have Lost Their Charm for Both Consumers and Investors
  Life
The Vault
Oct. 21 2014 2:23 PM A Data-Packed Map of American Immigration in 1903
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 21 2014 3:03 PM Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 21 2014 1:02 PM Where Are Slate Plus Members From? This Weird Cartogram Explains. A weird-looking cartogram of Slate Plus memberships by state.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 21 2014 9:42 PM The All The President’s Men Scene That Perfectly Captured Ben Bradlee’s Genius
  Technology
Technology
Oct. 21 2014 11:44 PM Driving in Circles The autonomous Google car may never actually happen.
  Health & Science
Climate Desk
Oct. 21 2014 11:53 AM Taking Research for Granted Texas Republican Lamar Smith continues his crusade against independence in science.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.