Thursday, September 02, 2010

Widener's Storage Building Suffered an Explosion 9-1-2010

Widener's Reloading and Shooting Supply suffered an explosion at a storage building. It is unclear as to how this will affect filling of current or future orders or the future of the business. Ammunition storage facility explodes near Johnson City/Jonesborough line
By Becky Campbell
Press Staff Writer

An ammunition storage facility explosion rocked a small neighborhood off Indian Ridge Road and sent a plume of smoke skyward that could be seen miles away.

It happened just after 10 a.m. at the dead end of Locust Lane, a short neighborhood road off Indian Ridge near West Market Street.

No one was injured in the blast, according to Johnson City Interim Fire Chief Mark Finucane.

The building, owned by Stan Widener, housed materials he used in his business, Widener Reloading and Shooting Supply Inc.

Officials said no one was at the building at the time, but Widener was near enough to hear the blast and met emergency responders to take them to the site.

The gravel driveway leading to the building is at the end of Locust Lane. Because of the condition of the driveway, the only fire vehicle able to get to the location was a brush truck. Those vehicles are designed for off-road and rough terrain.

“The owner escorted our personnel back to assess what we had. What we found was a 30-by-30 metal frame building that suffered heavy damage from what appeared to be an explosion,” Finucane said.

“We determined that inside the building was ammunition casings and fireworks. The cause of the fire has yet to be determined. Law enforcement is on the scene and they are looking at the scene as a criminal investigation until further notice.”

Finucane said that the fire would burn itself out. The location was remote enough to not present a danger to residents or structures, he said.

Because the jurisdiction was initially in question, the blast brought out investigators from several agencies — Johnson City police, Johnson City Fire Department, Jonesborough Fire Department and the Washington County Sheriff’s Office.Eventually, the jurisdiction was determined to belong to Jonesborough. But after an initial report by the sheriff’s office, the state fire marshal’s office and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms will handle the investigation.

According to the business web site, Widener’s Reloading has been operating for 31 years. It is mainly a mail-order ammunition supply company, with only a P.O. box listed as the address.

Aside from the storage building, Widener owns another building on West Market Street where orders are packed and shipped.

Officials at the scene said they were aware of the facility prior to the blast.

“We knew the buildings were here, contents we don’t know just like any other,” house or business, said Nes Leovtch, director of the Washington County Emergency Management Agency.

He said there is an emergency plan for an explosion that calls for evacuating residents and businesses if necessary. Wednesday’s incident didn’t call for that plan to be implemented, he said.

In fact, some residents along Locust Lane stood outside their homes and watched the activity.

James Branscomb, who lives at the end of Locust Lane, was home having his morning coffee when he heard the blast.

“I heard the initial pop and crack. Then it was a concussion,” he said. “I didn’t know what was going on.”

Branscomb knew there was a storage building in the field, but had never been concerned about its contents.

Branscomb said he came out of his house to see what had happened and saw the plume of smoke rising from the scene.

Another person in the neighborhood, Troy Arnold, was painting at a friend’s house. He said he heard one big explosion, but “you could tell it was a continual, like it was fusing itself. There was some good size explosions, then the firecrackers started going off.

“You could tell it was either ammo or fireworks or something that was very volatile.”

As the initial commotion died down, Arnold went about his business and began painting again.

Responders cleared the scene about as quickly as they arrived, leaving behind only two ATF agents and one state fire marshal.

Both agencies will be involved in the investigation, but work at the scene won’t begin until the area has cooled down and is safe, one agent said.

Part of that investigation will be a review of Widener’s licensing as an ammunition, reloading and weapons dealer.

Widener is no stranger to the area. He worked for many years as an assistant district attorney in the First Judicial District, but now works part-time for the Public Defender’s Office.

Widener is also the Johnson City municipal judge.

© 2001-2010 Johnson City Press and The Assoc
I had no idea that Widener was a lawyer and judge as well as running this business.

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