Chaos, confusion and finally a sense of calm.
Those were the words residents of a Grandview apartment complex used Wednesday to describe an explosion with multiple blasts that destroyed a nearby lawn care business Tuesday night.
“The place was rattling and shaking. Boom. Boom. Pop. Pop. Pop,” said Willie Cross, who lives at the Cedarwood Apartments less than a half-mile from the blast. “It sounded like a war zone.”
A spokesman for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said Wednesday that investigators had found evidence that fireworks were being made at the business, JW Lawn Service, near 140th and West Outer Road.
It is a federal crime to store explosive devices after they are made, the spokesman said, but there are also licensing requirements at the federal, state and local levels.
The explosion and fire about 7:10 p.m. Tuesday broke windows and damaged at least nine houses and 19 nearby apartments, according to city officials. People in Belton, Lee’s Summit and across the state line reported feeling the blast. It was reportedly heard as far away as Stilwell in Johnson County.
Grandview firefighters evacuated 46 people from the area, and authorities closed the 140th Street bridge, along with West Outer Road at 138th Street.
All roads were back open Wednesday night except westbound 140th Street at Interstate 49.
No injuries were reported, but the lawn care building was destroyed, leaving a debris field that extended more than two blocks, said ATF spokesman John Ham.
“How nobody got hurt in this thing is just beyond belief to me,” he said.
Cross said he was sitting in his living room watching TV when his “window was just gone.”
He covered his wife and his dog for protection on the floor. The explosion, he said, was unlike anything he has experienced.
Cross and his family had to sleep at a friend’s house Tuesday night. They returned home Wednesday morning before management was able to restore a broken window. Late Wednesday afternoon, Cross and his family were thankful they were not injured.
“It’s rough,” he said. “I’m glad all this is over with.”
Wednesday morning about 20 investigators from the ATF sifted through the debris where the building once stood. Explosives experts searched for evidence, but their work proceeded slowly as fires continued to burn in what had once been the basement of the building.
The federal agency arrived at the request of Grandview fire and police officials, along with the Missouri State Fire Marshal, for a joint investigation.
Grandview Fire Chief Ron Graham said that the fire department had reports from neighbors that the lawn care business stored ammunition and materials for reloading ammunition, but that the department could not yet confirm those reports.
Firefighters Tuesday night reported at least a dozen smaller explosions after the initial blast, along with a constant popping sound of ammunition going off. The possible presence of live ammunition led fire officials to take a defensive position against the fire.
Natural gas has been ruled out as a cause, city officials said, because the building had no natural gas service.
The owner of the lawn care business could not be reached for comment by The Star Wednesday but was talking with investigators, city officials said. By Wednesday evening, investigators sought to speak to the owner again.
The business offered small-engine repair for lawnmowers and similar appliances, which meant it would contain some flammable materials.
But Ham said that would not account for an explosion the size of the one heard Tuesday.
The magnitude of that explosion may be indicated by one detail investigators found as they examined damage to homes surrounding the blast site.
“That’s more than what standard combustibles would have caused,” Ham said. “This was certainly a major explosion.”
Investigators found shattered windows in the nearby apartments that had blown out — not in. That suggested a massive suction of air displaced by the explosion, which neighbors also reported having felt.
Cedarwood resident Lillie Welch said the initial explosion rattled her nerves.
“It just shook everything,” Welch said. “I though it was (a nearby gas station) across the street.”
Resident Debbie Tripp’s apartment window was blown out by the blast. It was replaced Wednesday. Despite the blast, Tripp was able to appreciate the aftermath of the incident.
“We’re alive,” she said, “and that’s probably the best that front window has ever been insulated.”
Surveillance video of Grandview explosion posted to Facebook by Matt Flener of KMBC-TV