| WEST, Texas, April 24
WEST, Texas, April 24 Hundreds of firefighters
and a drum and pipe band joined residents of a Texas town on
Wednesday to honor a firefighter who died one week ago in an
explosion at a fertilizer plant that killed 13 others and
injured some 200.
Authorities said on Wednesday they have not determined the
cause of the blast at the West Fertilizer Co in the town of
West, a Czech-American community between Austin and Dallas.
A fire initially broke out at the plant followed by the
fiery explosion approximately 22 minutes later, officials said.
The focus of the investigation is on learning where the fire
started in order to determine what caused the larger blast.
"The main focus in the investigation is the fire," said
Robert Champion, special agent in charge of the federal Alcohol,
Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), from the Dallas field
The plant stored and mixed fertilizer for local farmers,
including dangerous anhydrous ammonia and ammonium nitrate.
Most of those killed were first responders who were battling
the blaze, so investigators are looking where charred fire
trucks are located, as well as a large crater, for clues.
Kenneth "Luckey" Harris, Jr., 52, a Dallas firefighter who
lived in West, was among 11 first responders and three others
killed when the plant exploded, injuring about 200 people. He
was off-duty at the time.
Firefighters from departments across Texas - most in formal
dress uniforms - packed into the St. Mary's Catholic Church of
the Assumption and an overflow area outside, where mourners
included horseback riders in chaps toting U.S. and Texas flags
and leather-clad members of several motorcycle clubs.
In his eulogy, Dallas Fire Chief Louie Bright paid tribute
to Harris' leadership, dedication and courage, noting that in
the course of their careers, firefighters face situations that
test whether the "job is just a paycheck or ... a passion."
"On April 17, Captain Kenneth Harris demonstrated a passion
not only for his profession but also for his community ... every
single time the call for service rang out he was right there to
give maximum effort," he said.
The toll on first responders in the West blast is the
highest in one single incident in the state since a disaster in
Texas City in 1947, the Texas Line of Duty Death Task Force has
said. In that incident, a cargo ship packed with fertilizer
exploded, killing more than 500 people, among them more than two
dozen local volunteer firefighters.
President Barack Obama plans to attend a memorial service on
Thursday for victims of the West explosion, the White House
said. The service will be held at Baylor University in Waco,
The government of the Czech Republic said on Wednesday it
would send approximately $200,000 in aid to the town founded by
Czech immigrants in the 19th century and known for its bakeries
selling Czech pastries.
Czech-Americans also have organized a fundraising campaign
to offer disaster relief to the town of about 2,700 people, the
Czech Embassy in Washington said.
(Reporting by Tim Gaynor and Corrie MacLaggan; Writing by Greg
McCune; Editing by Eric Beech)