USA — The Portland bomb squad was called to Kelso early Monday morning for what authorities described as a makeshift bomb that touched off a small brush fire near a gas line.
No one was injured, but Cowlitz County authorities advised Burlington Northern & Santa Fe to shut down rail traffic for two hours on the line that runs through North Kelso. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security also was alerted.
Kelso Police Chief Andy Hamilton said the explosive device was discovered near the intersection of North Pacific Avenue and Redpath Street. The bomb was placed near a train trestle and a natural gas line, he said.
Hamilton said he believes the device was intentionally left near the gas line to increase its explosive power or to damage the tracks. Neither the gas line nor the trestle was damaged.
Authorities have yet to identify any suspects.
Asked if he would characterize the incident as an attempted act of terrorism, sabotage or a prank, Hamilton said, “It could fit into any one of those categories.”
One neighbor called 9-1-1 after hearing “a loud noise” and discovering flames out his window, Hamilton said. Other passersby saw the flames and called authorities.
The device, which included what appears to be an acetylene tank, was spewing flames when police arrived shortly after 1:20 a.m. Cowlitz 2 Fire & Rescue dowsed the flames. The bomb squad deployed a remote-controlled robot to examine what was left of the contraption, which police declined to describe in detail.
The bomb, Hamilton said, was about 150 yards from the nearest house and posed little risk to the neighborhood. He said he did not know what kind of damage it could have done if it touched off the nearby gas line.
Cascade Natural Gas stationed a crew with a backhoe at the scene in case the line was damaged, Hamilton said.
Hamilton said he hasn’t encountered an explosive like this before.
“This is new,” he said. “I’ve never heard of something configured in the manner this was.”
Jani West, 23 of Kelso, said she and her boyfriend were walking by around 1:20 a.m. when they saw the flames. “I seen the fire and we ran up to it,” she said. “We noticed it looked like an explosive.”
The pair decided to call authorities.
“I automatically thought of the people in the neighborhood, their houses,” West said.
Irene Ward, 51, of Kelso she was giving her nephew a ride home following his shift at Walmart when they, too, spotted the flames. She said her nephew walked over to get a look, then backed away when he saw the explosive.
“He said, I’m not going any closer,’ ” Ward recalled. “It looked like some kind of tank or something.”