The fire started at 7:29 in the "seed room," and firefighters arrived at 7:38.
At 7:41 p.m., firefighters called for assistance. Ten minutes later, two explosions erupted milliseconds apart—one small and the other large. The plant was enveloped in a ball of fire and black smoke.Even if the cause of the fire is never known, we can know this: If you're storing hundreds of tons of explosive chemicals, safety precautions are important. Government inspections of facilities storing hundreds of tons of explosive chemicals are important. Not locating facilities storing hundreds of tons of explosive chemicals near schools and homes is important. Having more than $1 million in liability insurance at facilities storing hundreds of tons of explosive chemicals is important. The West Fertilizer Co. and the state of Texas ignored all that, and instead of a fire, there was a fire followed by a massive explosion.
As fire had engulfed the plant, ammonium nitrate fertilizer stored in wooden bins had heated up and become less stable. Falling debris had hit the chemical, by then sensitive to shock, and caused the first blast, said Assistant State Fire Marshal Kelly Kistner.
Investigators said the 28 to 34 tons of ammonium nitrate that blew up was equivalent to 15,000 to 20,000 pounds of TNT.
About 120 additional tons of the chemical did not explode.