Authorities investigate barn explosion

Published 7:42 pm Thursday, January 6, 2011

A federal law enforcement agency is investigating a local NewYear’s Day fire that began with a bang.

An investigator with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearmsand Explosives was in Lincoln County Wednesday to inspect theremains of a barn that exploded and burned to the ground justbefore midnight on Jan. 1. A number of firearms and some ammunitionwere stored in the structure as part of a local man’s weaponsbusiness, said Lincoln County Civil Defense Director CliffordGaley.

“Between the sheriff’s office investigator and the state firemarshal, they’ve called the ATF because of the explosion and thenature of the business in the building,” Galey said.

The contents of the barn, located at 2191 Turpin Road, belongedto Lincoln County’s Bubba Rials, a former weapons dealer with aFederal Firearms License. Stored in the barn was more than $5,000worth of new handguns Rials planned to sell, he said.

“These were little pocket guns, like Derringers, women mightcarry in their purse,” he said. “I was going to try to sell them tosupplement my income.”

The guns weren’t the most expensive possessions in the barn.Rials also lost a multitude of tools and a Honda S-2000 sportscar.

The structure and everything in it were scorched. Neither theATF agent nor the state fire marshal on scene Wednesday wouldcomment, but Rials said he believes the explosion was caused bygas.

“It filled up with natural gas,” he said. “I don’t know if itjust filled up or someone filled it up. As far as I know, it mayhave just been an accident.”

Whatever caused the explosion, the fire was intense enough tocook off the ammunition stored in the barn. Volunteer firefightersfought the blaze for two hours, although Heuck’s Retreat VolunteerFire Department member John Riggs said the burning ammunition didnot pose a danger.

“Ammo by itself is not generally dangerous in a fire like that.It will heat up and the gunpowder will explode, but it just blowsthe bullet out of the top of the cartridge,” he said. “The bulletdoesn’t actually go anywhere. There were also some spray paint cansthat contributed to the popping.”

Whatever caused the explosion was powerful enough that it jarredneighbors who called in the blaze around 11:55 p.m.

“Whatever started the fire actually blew the walls apart,” Riggssaid. “There was a bang.”