With the Fourth of July looming, people in Kent, Wash., have one particular explosive on their minds.
Tennis ball bombs.
At a community meeting last week, someone asked police how to identify the homemade bombs.
“A tennis ball bomb is very easy to identify. It is a real tennis ball that has some sort of fuse sticking out of it,” the Kent Police Department explained on its Facebook page, where it also posted a photo of one.
“The tennis ball could also be completely wrapped in duct tape with a fuse sticking out.”
Dog owners in particular worry about the balls, which their pets could see as toys. Dog blogs and websites are passing the department’s warning around ahead of the Fourth of July weekend.
Ray Friis found one of the tiny bombs in February when he was geocaching in a park in Everett, Wash., according to KING-TV in Seattle.
“It was a wet paper bag, and it ripped open and the bombs rolled out,” he told the TV station. “I knew they were bombs because there were fuses sticking out.”
A bomb squad disposed of eight explosives in the bag, including one tennis ball bomb. But Friis worried about what could have happened if someone else had found them, hidden in the brush in a very busy park. It wasn’t clear whether they had been left to target geocachers or were merely dumped there.
“I was worried about little kids coming up. Kids love this park. So do dogs,” he said.
In November 2000 one of the devices killed a Labrador retriever in Portland, Ore. A man walking his friend’s dog picked up a tennis ball he found on the ground and started playing fetch with the dog.
The dog bit down hard on the ball after one pass and triggered the explosives hidden in it. The pet had to be euthanized.
Police say the bombs are usually made by people using information from the Internet.
“Some of them are very effective and dangerous, and some of them don’t work, but you don’t know,” Jarod Kasner, public information officer for the Kent Police Department, told CBS News.
“People light them, leave them thinking it’s a dud, but who knows what’s happening on the inside. Then a dog comes and picks it up ...”
Kasner said the ball bombs pose a hazard for people, too, because the explosives could go off in your hand.
“It could be smoldering on the inside, and when you move it around that’s when it goes off,” Kasner told CBS.
Police advise that before you or your dog touch a stray tennis ball look for signs of tampering: seams where the ball has been cut open, something sticking out that could be a fuse, tape attached to it or a small hole where a fuse might have been.
If it looks suspicious, police say, leave it alone and call 911.