Phoenix ATF agents investigating fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas

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By Jennifer Thomas By Jennifer Thomas

PHOENIX -- Arizona ATF special agents are among the teams of investigators searching for answers in West, Texas. Four Phoenix-based agents were sent to the disaster zone as part of the National Response Team.

“We’ll be on this scene processing for as long as it takes,” Special Agent Tom Mangan told 3TV by phone Wednesday.

Pictures from the scene show the severe impact of the blast, which left a diameter 10 feet deep and 93 feet across, according to investigators.

Mangan said the explosion scattered debris nearly 40 blocks. The cause of the deadly blast is still unknown.

“We don’t know if it’s an industrial accident or criminal in nature, and quite frankly we won’t know that until we’ve concluded the investigation,” Mangan said.

Electrical, structural and fire engineers, as well as cause-of-origin experts and explosives experts are among those examining the site.

“Evidence from the scene is going to be analyzed at labs when the scene investigation concludes. This investigation is far from over,” Mangan said.

It may take months for agents to determine how and why this fertilizer plant exploded.

“A lot of people are left with questions when they’re looking for answers,” Mangan said.

Ultimately, the goal will be to ensure a tragedy like this doesn’t happen again. State and federal agencies have also begun looking into the fertilizer plant and the incident, and will likely check and recheck standards of operations.

The death toll now stands at 15; the majority of those killed were first responders.

“These brave first responders and firefighters are heroes and their families are going through a lot,” Mangan said Tuesday night. He attended a service for Dallas Fire Capt. Kenneth Harris, who was killed in the explosion. 

Harris, who lived in West, was off duty last Wednesday but rushed into danger to help his community that night.

“When this happened he went to the scene, out of the call of duty and the man he was,” Mangan said. 

The town’s heroes are being mourned this week, as the community tries to pick up the pieces.

“I do commend the great people of West, Texas, because they’re really embracing everybody that's coming into their community,” Mangan described. “They’re very strong people; my hat's off to them and to the brave firefighters and volunteer firefighters of West, Texas.”