|From Album 5|
MINDEN, La. — Just before midnight on Oct. 15, 2012, Sheriff Gary Sexton of Webster Parish was driving home from the airport when the sky lit up like midday. He flipped on his walkie-talkie to hear everyone asking: What on earth were those big booms?
As the sheriff would soon learn, two massive explosions had taken place at Camp Minden, a 15,000-acre site owned by the state in the pine woods just south of here, where private companies engage in military-related work. When the authorities began examining the blast site, they found something startling: thousands of tons of M6 propellant, used in the firing of artillery rounds, stuffed into plastic bags and piled into sagging cardboard boxes, many of them out in open fields.
Though the initial explosions were so big that smoke from them showed up on National Weather Service radar, no one was injured and damage was minimal. But more than two years later, figuring out how to dispose of 18 million pounds of unstable and dangerous material — who would do it and whether it could be done in a way that did not compound the danger — remains the talk of the parish.
The material belonged to Explo Systems, a private contractor. The 18 million pounds includes some explosives like TNT, but nearly all of it is M6 propellant, which can spontaneously ignite, a risk that increases significantly over time. Officials with the Environmental Protection Agency say it is the largest such stockpile in the country.
And…of course, Explo has gone Implo, declaring bankruptcy two years ago after several company officers were indicted on charges related to the 2012, um, “event.” So now the Gret Stet of Loosiana (which is stuck holding the bag–make that bags…hundreds of them…all ticking time bombs…or “big booms,” if you prefer) and the EPA have decided the solution for disposing of 9000 tons of hazardous, toxic, and volatile material is…burn it out in the open. Because after all, what could go wrong?