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Explosions rock Louisiana bomb recycling plant

A series of explosions and a fire at a plant where military bombs are disassembled forced the evacuation of more than 1,000 people from schools and a jail, officials said.  No injuries or deaths were reported.
/ Source: The Associated Press

More than 10 explosions rocked a bomb recycling plant in northwestern Louisiana on Thursday, forcing the evacuation of an entire town and more than 400 prisoners from a nearby jail, authorities said.

No injuries or deaths were reported.

A fire at the Explo Systems Inc. site at the Louisiana Army National Guard’s Camp Minden triggered a major explosion involving two military bombs about 8:30 a.m., state police said. In the ensuing hours, more than 10 explosions — some intense, some minor — went off inside the plant as the fire continued to burn and thick smoke billowed from the plant, authorities said.

Authorities evacuated Doyline, a town of 800 people about 20 miles east of Shreveport, closed two schools and emptied the Webster Parish jail, said Bobby Igo, chief deputy for the Webster Parish sheriff.

By late afternoon, the main fire had burned itself out, but authorities were monitoring small hot spots as a hazardous materials survey team examined the damage.

“It’s all safe and secure at this time,” Igo said.

However, residents of Doyline would not be allowed to return home until Friday, Igo said. The schools would remain closed until Monday, he said.

All the employees inside the plant escaped after the fire broke out and before the first explosion, Igo said. The company employs 60 people, but it was not known how many were inside the plant, said Lt. Col. Carl Thompson, assistant commander of Camp Minden.

Two major highways near Camp Minden remained closed, although state police reopened Interstate 20 to traffic after about six hours.

Some 441 inmates from a Webster Parish jail two miles from the plant were taken aboard school buses and in vans to lockups in Bossier Parish and a state prison in nearby Homer, said Ed Baswell, a spokesman for the Bossier Parish sheriff’s office.

About 600 students from Doyline High School and Union Elementary School were taken to nearby Sibley, the Webster Parish sheriff’s office said.

The explosion was the second in recent weeks at Camp Minden, where large-caliber ammunition was produced for the military until it closed in 1994.

On Aug. 14, a fire and explosions rocked the Valentec Systems plant at Camp Minden, destroying about half the facility’s buildings. No injuries were reported, and the fire was allowed to burn itself out. That company makes battlefield flares for the military.

The Army transferred control of Camp Minden to the National Guard in 2005.