Minden Press-Herald

Thursday
Oct 02nd

The Big Boom Theory

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IMG_0133_copyExplo Systems evades issue; stonewalls press, authorities

Explosion of an Explo Systems bunker at Camp Minden Monday night may remind officials of an emergency exercise that took place in May of 2011.

A mock bunker blast was coordinated in what was the third consecutive response exercise conducted by Camp Minden and Homeland Security.

"This helps us to identify any weaknesses in our plans and fix them," said Col. Carl Thompson, Camp Minden's public affairs officer after the 2011 exercise. "We did a training exercise like this (in 2010), and it paid off real well when we had to deal with the real life situation (in 2011)."

The bunker, which according to Louisiana State Police Trooper Matt Harris, is a magazine. It has also been called an "igloo."

"What exploded in the night was a magazine storage facility, which is an above-ground bunker composed of concrete and earth," Harris said. "The walls are made of concrete and then they surround it with dirt and it basically looks like a grassy mound.



"It did have explosives stored in it and it did explode," he continued. "As to what caused the explosion, that is still yet to be determined and is under investigation."

In 2011, Col. Thompson delivered a mock briefing to the media and said employees around magazine 2305 (where the explosion occurred based on smoke in that area) were evacuated. The magazine involved in the exercise hypothetically contained approximately 1,000 pounds of black powder and 167,000 pounds of M-6 propellant.

Despite the inclusion of a press conference during training, Explo, who originally scheduled meetings canceled before releasing any information.

The Camp Minden Emergency Response Group is comprised of numerous local and state response agencies representing fire, hazmat, law enforcement, rescue, medical and emergency management disciplines of Webster and Bossier parishes. They have held the exercise annually for the past four years to measure their performance in response to a mock on-site explosive emergency.

After the explosion happened, Homeland Security officials confirmed around 12:30 a.m. Tuesday that "everything (was) fine at Camp Minden."

This led other law enforcement and emergency responders to speculate what may have been happening.

Trooper Harris said the reason for the delay might have been caused by lack of light and high moisture content in the area.

"It is my understanding the reason it was not reported to us was because an explosion could not be confirmed last night," he said. "When you have an explosion like that, most of the time, the explosion vaporizes and what ever exploded is gone upon the explosion. "

Harris said because material gets so hot so quick it practically vaporizes.

"As soon as the explosion happened the spot fires likely burned out by the time personnel checked them. So they couldn't find the blast zone due to the darkness of night and not being able to find spot fires," Harris continued. "So the way you find blast zones is by looking for spot fires."

Harris said the investigation is ongoing and is being conducted by Troop G HAZMAT Unit.

"It was my understanding that Explo would hold a press conference and at this point the only other information I have is the explosion is under investigation."

Harris did confirm that the investigation only involves one magazine and one explosion.

However, Harris said Troop G does not have specifics concerning the number of magazines or other data and said Explo and Camp Minden would be the points of contact. Camp Minden officials referred to Explo, which did not return phone calls to the Press-Herald by press-time today.

"It was around 8 a.m. Tuesday when we were notified about the incident," Harris said, which leaves a gap of more than eight hours from the time the explosion happened until Troop G was notified.

Harris could not refer to a specific preferred response time or standard protocol saying that he had no data or experience to refer back to, because of his limited time in his position.

Harris was able to dispel rumors of evacuations.

"We have had no evacuations. There may be certain areas on Camp Minden that were not yet secure and until the area is secure, they are not going to let anyone drive through it or be at that location, because you run a risk of something else exploding," he said. "Until the area is locked down and everyone knows what is going on, they are not going to let people through the area. They have to set up a containment perimeter, but that is not an evacuation. What they do is contain an area outside the blast zone and they don't let people in that containment zone."

Harris and other officials have said they are doing everything they can to find out what happened. After Explo canceled a press conference Tuesday, Webster Parish Sheriff Gary Sexton spoke to the media.

"I actually came here to speak with representatives from Explo," he said. "I am going to suggest anyone with property damage, such as broken windows, new foundation issues or other damage related to the explosion to contact the number they have released to the media."

As a contact number to report damage to property or for inquiries, Explo has released the number of Terry Wright, Vice President of Operations, 470-6641.

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