CEDAR CITY—The Iron County Sheriff’s Office released a report this morning detailing the finding of explosives at the site of last summer’s Brian Head wildfire.
In a release from the ICSO, Lt. Del Schlosser said that during firefighting efforts on June 27, 10 days after the fire initially started, firefighters working near Henderson Hill heard “popping” sounds. He said the firefighters thought those sounds were from rocks exploding due to heat, but once the sounds continued for about five minutes, they realized ammunition was exploding.
“Once the sound subsided, firefighters hiked into the area and located a cabin structure which had burned to the ground” Schlosser said in his release. “Nearby, firefighters also located a bunker dug into the ground. Inside the bunker, firefighters found a box of what appeared to be novelty hand-grenades, which had been altered, by drilling-out the bottoms and plugging the drilled holes with threaded, galvanized pipe plugs. Firefighters also saw what appeared to be explosive powder, fuses, and ammunition. Also in the bunker was a large number of boxes and containers which were being used as food storage. Firefighters took some cursory photographs, left the area, and notified law enforcement.”
Due to the presence of potentially dangerous items, and for the safety of firefighting personnel, firefighting action in the immediate area of the burned cabin was changed to aerial suppression only.
The following day, the Iron County Sheriff’s Office notified the Washington County bomb squad, and requested assistance in disposing of the dangerous items. The bomb squad requested additional assistance from the FBI’s Salt Lake City division Special Agent Bomb Technicians (SABTs).
Schlosser said that on June 30, law enforcement officials from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), special agents from the United States Forest Service (USFS), Washington County Bomb Squad and Special Agent Bomb Technicians of the FBI were briefed by investigators representing the ICSO, Utah State Highway Patrol’s Helicopter, and the Washington County Bomb Squad.
“It was determined a contingent would be flown by helicopter to the remote bunker sight, where the explosives and other materials would be assessed, and disposed of,” he said.
Another contingent of officers would attempt to locate and interview a person who investigators believed to have knowledge of, and possibly be responsible for, the cabin and bunker. On June 30, officers executed their plans, with some officers going to the location of the bunker by way of the UHP helicopter, and some going to a residence in Parowan.
Schlosser said officers were able to locate the person of interest at his residents, interviewed him, and he was cooperative. He said the bunker and burned-down cabin were his and that he had purchased, drilled-out and threated novelty hand-grenades. He told them the hand-grenades were not an explosive hazard to firefighters or others at the location.
The person further told officers he has approximately seven or eight such cabin structures and bunkers hidden throughout the area; and that most are supplied with food-storage, firearms, and ammunition, and he had built the shelters and storage caches over course of several years.
Officers and bomb technicians who responded to the initial bunker by helicopter located dozens of hand-grenades. The hand grenades were assessed, and found to be in an inert condition, however some contained fuses and some did not. Bomb technicians destroyed several hand grenades and a significant quantity of black powder on site, Schlosser said in the release.
“Investigations into the illegal cabins, bunker and storage caches is still ongoing at this time. The person responsible for the cabins, bunker, and storage caches is cooperating with investigators and has accompanied investigators to each of the locations, described when they were constructed, and what was stored at each location,” the release stated.
Officers with the USFS and ICSO have so far cleaned up and removed all burned debris from the cabins, dismantled the bunker, and removed all of the items that had been stored inside the bunker. Officers have also removed burned items and debris from other small storage caches in the surrounding areas that the person has shown officers, and that were located by fire crews working on the Brian Head fire. Due to the remote locations of the cabins, and large volume of burned debris and stored property, officers had to use helicopters during the removal of debris and property at two of the locations.
“At the completion of the investigation, a case will be presented to the Iron County Attorney, and to the Utah United States Attorney’s Office for consideration of charges, and potential restitution for the cost of removal of the burned debris and property,” Schlosser said.