ATF: Homemade fireworks most likely to blame for home explosion - KCTV5


ATF: Homemade fireworks most likely to blame for home explosion

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(Edwin Watson/KCTV) (Edwin Watson/KCTV)
(Edwin Watson/KCTV) (Edwin Watson/KCTV)
(Edwin Watson/KCTV) (Edwin Watson/KCTV)
  • UPDATEATF: Homemade fireworks most likely to blame for home explosionMore>>


The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said that their preliminary investigation into Wednesday's home explosion on the city's southeast side leads them to believe that someone in the house was making homemade illegal fireworks.

"That would be equivalent to M-80s or cherry bombs," said John Ham, an ATF investigator.

Buried under piles of burnt wood, ATF investigators found evidence that led them to rule it a criminal case.

ATF has contacted the U.S. Attorney's Office who will determine what, if any, charges will be filed.

Before investigators could enter the home at East 92nd Street and Tennessee Avenue on Friday, part of the roof and the northern section of the house had to be knocked down because they were in jeopardy of collapsing from all the damage.

"A backhoe knocked down part of the home we were concerned about and now investigators are in there. It's a slow methodical process and it's important not to rush through anything. We're looking for something small in the huge mess," Ham said early Friday morning.

Seven ATF investigators and bomb & arson experts were on site Friday, trying to piece together what caused the massive explosion Wednesday night that severely injured the homeowner, 52-year-old Wiley Mitchell Jr., who lost both his legs and an arm in the horrific blast. He remains in the intensive care unit in critical condition as investigators work to identify and capture key evidence.

Investigators aren't saying if he was the one making the fireworks.

"ATF regulates that industry. You have to have a manufacturer's license, you get inspected by us. We come out and make sure you're storing things safely, that you're keeping distance from your storage magazines in the right form. All of that stuff, it is not something that is designed to be done and, of course, today we see the tragic results," Ham said.

ATF investigators say they have interviewed five of the six people inside the home at the time about exactly what was happening when the explosion occurred. Early on they were definitive that natural gas was not to blame.

Ham said making homemade fireworks is highly dangerous as Wednesday's explosion shows.

"The components that are used in the manufacturing of fireworks are unstable to the point that static electricity will cause a detonation, dragging your foot across the floor could cause it, a pilot light, a spark, it just takes so little to result in this much damage and it's just simply not worth the risk," he said. "Buy the stuff at the tent, from the companies that make it professionally and everybody can enjoy the Fourth of July that way."

He said, in many cases, people can go online and get instructions to create M-80s or cherry bombs, but it's a recipe for disaster. Others will often try to create even bigger fireworks from stuff that is sold at tents.

"We do see people go to the fireworks tents and buy stuff, and they want to try and make something bigger and better and so they start cutting into these and reformulating, and unfortunately this is what can happen. These people's lives are forever changed," Ham said.

The ATF said the bottom line is that people should leave it to the professionals and only buy fireworks that are pre-packaged and have gone through rigorous safety testing.

"If you are buying illegal fireworks from your next door neighbor that look like the cherry bombs or the M-80 devices. When we tell you that those will take off your hand or worse, we are not joking. This is serious stuff," Ham said.

Neighbors who heard the news were momentarily left speechless.

"Every noise that I hear now, I go check on my brothers, my mom and dad," Ereyawn Byrd said. "What if it was those kids that was in critical condition?"

Four dogs were also in the house at the time. Two were killed and two initially ran away, but one returned.

KCTV5 is trying to find out from the city who's responsibility it is to fence the house off.

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