ATF National Response Team Joins Georgia Refinery Blast Investigation

The National Response Team (NRT) from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) has entered the investigation of the fatal Feb. 7 explosion and fire at the Imperial Sugar Co. refinery in Port Wentworth, Ga.

The NRT team, which joined the investigation at the request of the Georgia State Fire Marshal's Office, arrived at the scene Feb. 9. NRT Special Agent Phil Durham said NRT will work with other local, state and federal agencies to investigate the cause of the explosion.

ATF uses state-of-the-art equipment and works to reconstruct the scene, identify the seat of the blast or the origin of the fire, conduct interviews and sift through debris to obtain evidence. Typically, an NRT team is comprised of 13-18 members, and may include fire protection engineers; explosive detective canines, special agents with post-blast and fire origin-and-cause expertise; forensic chemists; explosives enforcement officers; and intelligence, computer forensic and audit support.

Officials speculate that combustible sugar dust may have ignited to cause the Imperial Sugar Co. blast. The Associated Press reports that 20 people were hospitalized with severe burns, while at least 10 others were treated at hospitals and released. As of press time, six workers were confirmed dead and two are still missing.

Imperial Sugar Co. President and CEO John Sheptor posted a message on the company’s Web site directing supporters to a donation fund. The company also provided employees with a hotline number to access updated information and additional resources.

The Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) deployed a six-member investigative team to the site on Feb. 8 to investigate the cause of the accident.

To learn more about the explosion, read Six Dead in Massive Refinery Fire.

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