Fire, explosion that destroyed Texas SNF ruled an arson

A 2013 fire at a Texas fertilizer plant that nearly destroyed a nearby skilled nursing facility and killed a resident has been ruled an arson, federal officials announced Wednesday.

Authorities with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said they are pursuing the fire at the West Fertilizer Company “as a criminal act” after three years of investigations. The fire and explosion left a total of 15 people dead, and more than 260 other injured.

“It required extensive scientific testing to determine the cause of this,” said Robert Elder, an agent with the Houston division of the A.T.F. “We took our time because we knew we had to get this right. For a fire of this size, I wouldn't say this is unreasonable.”

The fire set off an explosion of 30 tons of nitrogen fertilizer that heavily damaged nearby West Rest Haven Home and required the facility's 100-plus residents to be evacuated through the debris. In addition to the resident who died, the tragedy is thought to have hastened the deaths of at least 14 other residents in the following months.

Many of West Rest's residents were moved to other nursing facilities in the area following the explosion, while some others went to live with family, the Waco Tribune reported.

Construction of a new, 75,000-square-foot West Rest began shortly after the explosion. The new facility began accepting residents in August 2015.