While a painstaking multi-agency investigation kept looking Friday for the cause of an explosion that destroyed part of Nosler Inc.’s Bend bullet plant, the company got some good news that should allow shipping of products to resume next week, and perhaps making products again within 30 days.
The investigation for the origin and cause of Wednesday's fire and explosion is expected to continue through Saturday, said Deputy Fire Marshal Susie Lovisco. Heavy equipment continued to remove debris to help stabilize the scene for the safety of the investigators, who were also interviewing witnesses.
Nosler spokesman Zach Waterman said workers have been able to re-enter the building involved in the blast.
“We were able to get back in there briefly, and we salvaged the most important things first, our computers,” Waterman told KBND radio. “We had great success in doing that. We got those out.”
“Right now, everything is working and turned on,” he said. “We hope to have the shipping center up by Monday,” once enough computers are online.
Waterman said Nosler also hopes to be able to resume manufacturing within 30 days, as it appears that gear was not damaged in the blast. He said the manufacturing machinery got wet, but appears undamaged.
The company spokesman said the blast occurred in an area used for storing records.
"A lot of it was just paper information, archived information," he said. "It looks like a big mess. But we found letters in there as far back as the 1950s. Nothing major, a lot that was backed up electronically."
Nosler issued a statement Thursday afternoon noting, "A significant finished goods inventory was stored in a separate building and will enable Nosler to meet short-term customer needs."
It quoted CEO Bob Nosler as saying: "Our No. 1 priority, after our people and our premises, is to repair the plant and to get our employees back to work as soon as possible."
Manufacturing workers were home on standby Thursday morning, but Waterman said no workers have lost their jobs and they will make the next payroll. A telephone "tree" was set up to keep employees informed
"We're still in business - it didn't destroy anything," he said. "We can rebuild the building - that's not a problem. We're just blessed that everyone made it out safe and sound."
Bend Fire Inspector Jeff Bond said late Thursday Oregon State Police Bomb Squad technicians have removed "hazardous production materials" from most of the building,
Crews also worked with Nosler personnel to salvage computers and critical documents, where such work was safe to perform. The fire official said the "investigation will proceed as affected areas of the building become accessible."
Other agencies involved on scene included Oregon OSHA, the Department of Environmental Quality and the federal Bureau of Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Next door, Mt. Bachelor's corporate offices were closed Thursday. A worker's car was one of at least two vehicles smashed by falling debris.
The massive explosion sent shock waves through southwest Bend Wednesday afternoon, but a quick evacuation helped save all 100 workers inside. Now, investigators are trying to figure out what happened
It all happened around 2:15 p.m. inside the 22-year-old, 80,000-square-foot Nosler Inc. building on SW Columbia Street near Simpson Avenue.
When it happened, many feared the worst, but incredibly, everyone made it out of the building safely.
For Bella Blackney, saying what she experienced was too close to home may be an understatement.
"I just remember driving through the smoke and couldn't see anything," Blackney said. "The plume was really big actually, like the size of a house."
She saw the smoke billowing out of the Nosler building, a little more than a football field from her home.
"All the sudden, the house shakes and the glasses rumbling and all the windows,” Blackney said. "All the glass shook, it was visible. I thought a bomb went off."
"I was just down the street," said Waterman. "And I came back to see that, and my jaw hit the floor."
Waterman says the trouble originated in the building's underground ammunition testing area.
“One of the gentlemen that was downstairs saw a bright flash of light,” Waterman said. “He alerted everyone and pulled the fire alarm.”
A Nosler worker told us off-camera he didn't even realize anything was wrong, He thought it might have just been a fire drill when everyone was evacuated.
But once he got outside, he quickly realized something was wrong. He saw the big orange plumes of smoke coming out of the building. Then the explosion happened, and how he described it was, the roof rose up and then fell right back down.
Witnesses say the explosion was felt by people all over the immediate area. some as far away as a half-mile or more.
Much of the area around the building was closed off Wednesday because there are potentially still some combustible materials inside that could set off another explosion.
Investigators from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, along with Oregon State Police and Bend fire investigators, gathered at the blast scene Thursday morning, working to figure out what triggered the explosion.
Bond said fire crews arrived to find extensive damage to the southeast corner of the building and brownish-yellow smoke pouring from the damaged area.
A fire special rescue operations team combed the wreckage to be sure all workers were accounted for, while city building officials helped evaluate the damage and hazards for crews performing mop-up and overhaul operations.
Bond also said the quick evacuation by workers was "instrumental in a safe and effective exit from the structure."
"The company instituted and practiced building evacuations over the years, and this policy paid off today," Bond said in a news release.
A damage figure still was being compiled for a facility valued at $2.8 million for the structure and $10 million worth of contents, but Bond said it clearly was "pretty extensive."
Columbia Street remained shut into the evening hours. Firefighters asked the public to avoid the area for their safety and that of emergency workers.
Bend Fire did a personnel callback to ensure adequate staffing and called in Redmond and Sunriver firefighters for mutual aid coverage of the North and South stations.
The explosion buried at least one evacuated worker's car in debris.
One nearby resident described the blast as like "feeling a bomb inside your house." After her house shook violently, she looked out to see a huge plume of orange smoke.
Barb Gonzalez at first thought it was an earthquake, when her house was jolted by the blast. "This one felt like a 5.5 (magnitude) jolt", said the survivor of the 1994 Northridge quake in California. Her second thought was an explosion.
People several blocks away said the explosion rattled their office windows.