Big Country

SPECIAL REPORT: Is there an ammonium nitrate storage facility in your backyard?

Special Report: Is there ammonium nitrate in your backyard

ABILENE, Texas - When a storage facility containing ammonium nitrate caught fire in the town of West in April, it led to an explosion that killed 15 and destroyed about 200 homes.

After the explosion, the state fire marshal created a website where people could search by zip code to find any facility that holds more than five tons of ammonium nitrate.

There are 115 facilities registered to handle ammonium nitrate with the state chemist's office, seven of them are in the Big Country. Those facilities are in Brownwood, Sweetwater, Ballinger, Baird, Rotan, Carbon and Zephyr.

"Of course the West incident got everybody's attention, there's no denying that," said Jeff Barton, chief of the Baird Volunteer Fire Department and Mayor of Baird.

In Baird, the Callahan County Farmers Co-Op is pretty close to the downtown area. They carry the chemical for sale to farmers in the area. Barton said they work closely with the Co-Op on a safety plan.

"There is a residential area kind of in all directions we would go there first and start evacuating out a perimeter as far as we could as quick as we could," said Barton

In carbon it's a different story. Jody Forbus owns the Carbon Ag & Outdoors facility and he is also the fire chief there. Forbus said the explosion in West made him rethink carrying the chemical altogether.

"Being that we're inside the city limits of a small community, you know, just seeing the after effects of what happened to West, you know, really kind of gets you to thinking that making sure first of all that it's in a well, properly made facility, but also, you know, you just hate to see people get at risk," said Forbus.

Forbus said he has opted to substitute ammonium nitrate with a different fertilizer.

"Ammonium sulfate will not explode; it's a different type of fertilizer. It's not made the way ammonium nitrate is, so sulfate is, you know, there's no problems with sulfate, it's why we carry it, but it doesn't work as well, that's the reason why a lot of farmers don't like it," said Forbus.

Sweetwater Fire Department Chief Grant Madden said the Georgia-Pacific Gypsum plant is very proactive about working with the fire department should there ever be an emergency there.

"The one at Georgia-Pacific we know very well, have been out there numerous times, we work very closely with them and work with them on devising a plan should there be a fire out near their facility," said Madden.

Madden said the gypsum plant does not store ammonium nitrate at the facility, but they sometimes bring it in for a blast. So if something were to happen there what's the plan?

"Well I'm not going to mess with it. We're going to evacuate to a certain perimeter and let it go," said Madden.

There is a National Gypsum plant in Rotan. Their storage facility is far outside the city, just beyond the Stonewall County line. The plant said they work with the Rotan Volunteer Fire Department on a safety plan, but we were unable to confirm that with the Rotan Fire Department.

In Zephyr, the Orica plant, a dynamite storage facility, also keeps ammonium nitrate. The Zephyr Volunteer Fire Department said they work with them often and run numerous drills on site.

In Ballinger there is a large fertilizer plant, Buddy's Plant Plus. Edward Studer, the owner of that facility said their storage facilities aren't a danger to people nearby.

"I raised my kids here in this community I served on the school board here I hope to raise my grandkids here there is nothing that I would do to place myself, my kids or my community in danger there's no amount of money in the world worth any of that," said Studer.

"We have accident plans in place with the hospital, with the school, with the fire department for anything that might possibly come around," said Studer.

Lastly, the Buckley Powder Company in Brownwood stores explosives for demolition and energy exploration. They would not confirm storage of ammonium nitrate. The plant is far outside the city limits.

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