La. State Police: Blast in Camp Minden storage bunker

Bill Fuller
Associated Press

An explosion at Camp Minden in northwest Louisiana on Thursday morning happened in one of 61 bunkers where artillery propellant is stored, state police said. No one was hurt.

Louisiana State Trooper Matt Harris said the hazardous materials unit was surveying the area by air to see the extent of damage.

“Once the area is deemed safe, investigators will start looking for a cause of the explosion,” Harris said.

Explosive Services International of Baton Rouge is operating a 24-hour burn operation at Camp Minden to destroy 7,800 tons of M6 artillery propellant — used for firing heavy artillery — that was left behind when Explo Systems Inc. went bankrupt in 2013. The company says it has destroyed more than 3,100 tons.

Camp Minden is a National Guard facility, which leases space to businesses on the nearly 15,000 acre base.

Webster Parish director of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness Jenny Reynolds said she was standing on front porch drinking coffee at 5 a.m. when she saw a flash and then heard an explosion from the direction of Camp Minden. Reynolds said there had been no reports of damage to other facilities at Camp Minden or the homes or buildings nearby.

Billy Poe, president of Explosive Services International of Baton Rouge, told The Associated Press that all company personnel have been accounted for and none was hurt.

Truck driver DaWayne Munk told Shreveport station KSLA-TV he was driving on Interstate 20 when he “saw a fireball over the tree line. The whole sky lit up.”

The National Weather Service says its radar picked up a column of smoke over the Camp Minden area.

Forecaster Mike Berry told The Associated Press the smoke appeared at 5:08 a.m. and disappeared from the radar 10 minutes later.

State Police had begun investigating the company in 2012 after an explosion in one of Explo’s leased bunkers shattered windows 4 miles away in Minden and created a 7,000-foot mushroom cloud. They found the M6 and 160 tons of clean-burning igniter, much of it in bags in the open.

The owners and four officials of Explo Systems pleaded not guilty to federal charges earlier this month. They are accused of lying to get contracts to “demilitarize” the propellant, storing it unsafely and obstructing inspections.

Camp Minden is 22 miles east of Shreveport.