CHESTER - The cause of the explosion at a ConAgra silo that sent five people to the hospital Tuesday is still undetermined, but fire officials say a fire had been smoldering in the silo for more than a week before the explosion.

Marty Bert, captain and spokesman for the Chester Fire Department, said investigators believe a fire had been smoldering in the grain elevator seven to 10 days before contractors from West Side Salvage arrived to clean out the silo.

Bert said the contractors perform specialty work cleaning out grain silos and had only been working in Chester a short time before the explosion occurred. Bert said people reported a smell originating from the silo before the explosion.

Bert said that at 3:30 p.m. Thursday, the Chester Fire Department concluded its onsite investigation and has turned the scene over to ConAgra investigators. Bert said the fire department and state fire marshal still need to interview contractors injured at the scene to get a better picture of what happened, but have so far been unable to do so because the individuals are hospitalized.

He said the investigation to date has remained focused on the exterior of the structure because the structure is unsafe for investigators to enter. Control towers that sit on top of the silos were damaged in the blast and their roofs were caved in, which poses unsafe conditions, Bert said.

Bert said ConAgra was able to resume operations Wednesday in the mill portion of the facility. He said the mill produces materials for ConAgra food products, and the byproduct of that operation is the material that gets sent to the silos.

He said investigators are certain the cause of the explosion was accidental.

Bert reiterated his appreciation for the support of the community, donations and help.

"We're a small community and we had to pull all our resources together, with the help of surrounding communities, to put this fire out," Bert said.



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