“We have concerns with any explosive”
A decades-old, undetonated avalanche control explosive was discovered and removed from a home in town last Friday.
Three residences were evacuated during the five-hour operation, an entire town block was closed off, and a military bomb squad traveled from Colorado Springs to handle the explosive.
The explosive was located under a front porch at a rental residence along Gothic Avenue, between Third and Fourth Streets. Several new renters have recently inhabited the property.
Crested Butte assistant chief marshal Ted Conner says a previous tenant, whose name is being withheld during the investigation, had apparently discovered the explosive last spring at Crested Butte Mountain Resort and took it home.
But eventually that person moved out of the house on Gothic Avenue—and left the explosive under the porch.
Crested Butte resident Ryan Hoynacki moved into the house on October 30, along with several other new renters. “I remember seeing something like that when we moved in,” Hoynacki says.
On Friday, November 7, Hoynacki says, he met the previous tenant who had left the explosive behind. “He told me about it, and I asked, ‘Why didn’t you take it with you?’” Hoynacki says.
After that, Hoynacki says, the previous tenant came back to the house to locate the explosive, and then went to inform the authorities.
So later that afternoon it wasn’t much of a surprise to Hoynacki when he got a call from the Crested Butte marshals. “The police were freaking out. They were yelling to stay away from the porch and get out the back of the house… There must have been six or seven cops there,” he says.
Conner says the Crested Butte Fire Department and Gunnison County Emergency Management department also assisted with the explosive recovery.
Conner says after locating the device, the marshals determined it was reasonably safe, and quite old. The avalanche control explosive turned out to be a “75 Recoilless. It’s what the ski area used before they went to the Avy-launcher system,” Connor says. Although the device itself could be more than 50 years old, Conner says, the ski area stopped using them in the mid-1970s.
Despite the age and apparent safety of the device, Conner says, “We have concerns with any explosive… We controlled access to where it was located and evacuated nearby homes.”
Unlike modern avalanche bombs, which rely on a concussion blast of air to trigger avalanches, Conner says the older explosive fragments on detonation and could send shrapnel flying.
To handle the explosive, the marshals contacted a bomb disposal unit from Fort Carson. The marshals sent the basic information they knew about the device, along with several pictures to the bomb squad.
“The (explosives) team arrived a little before 11 that night… They went ahead and made a determination that it was safe enough for them to transport back to Fort Carson for disposal,” Conner says.
At approximately 11:30 p.m., Conner says, the rental residents and the other homeowners in the area were told they could return.
“It was definitely a fiasco. It’s a classic Crested Butte kind of story,” Hoynacki says.
Conner says an investigation is currently pending over the male Crested Butte resident who took the explosive from the ski area, and could not speculate on any potential criminal charges. He says the individual should have contacted ski area personnel when he first found the explosive, which could have prevented the activity on Friday evening.
Conner says after taking the device back to Fort Carson for examination, the bomb recovery team did find potentially explosive materials inside. He says the avalanche bomb has since been detonated and disposed of.
Looking back on Crested Butte’s mining heritage, Conner says there was one incident several years ago where a home was purchased in town and the new homeowner discovered some unstable dynamite in an outbuilding on the property. A bomb squad was also called in to handle that situation.
But regardless of when or where, Conner says, “If anybody discovers an explosive, please don’t move it. Alert the marshals or the proper authorities immediately.”