An illegal fireworks factory caused the explosions and fire that destroyed a square-block commercial complex and killed as many as nine people, investigators said Wednesday.
Fire Chief Emmet Condon told a news conference that black powder and a “charging table” used in the assembly of explosives were found in the area of a supposed storage company in the rubble of the three-story Bayview Building, leveled by the explosions and blaze last Friday.
Investigators said they believe the alleged clandestine factory produced M-80 and “barrel bomb” fireworks. Condon said the owner of the building, which housed more than 125 shops and small businesses, “had no idea this was an illegal operation.”
Capt. Richard Crispin of the Fire Department’s investigation unit said conspiracy warrants were being sought against at least three individuals and that three other warrants might be sought charging manufacture of explosives and murder.
Nolan Douglas, an investigator from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, refused to confirm or deny, however, that any warrants were being sought. He said members of the San Francisco arson task force--including police, fire officials and his agency--were not yet “in position to talk about anything we have or haven’t done in this investigation.”
Assistant U. S. Atty. Richard Healey, in charge of the federal investigation, flatly denied that any warrants were being sought.
Searchers believed they had found nine bodies in the ruins by Tuesday but were uncertain because remains were so badly charred. Investigators had the names of nine people who were missing and presumed dead. Two of the 22 people injured by the explosions and fire remained hospitalized Wednesday in serious condition.
“They don’t expect to find any more victims,” said a fire captain who declined to give his name. “They feel pretty confident they’ve got all the people accounted for.”
Most of the bodies reportedly were discovered in the area where the explosive materials were found, according to Crispin.
Condon said fire inspectors went through the complex last year, but added, “You just don’t find out what’s going on behind a locked door. It’s very difficult to do without a court order.”
The damage, which was estimated at $10 million, included the destruction of the entire stock and archives of Rip Off Press Inc., a popular underground comics publisher. The company said it lost 175,000 comics, 20,000 paperback books, boxes of uncatalogued collector comics and 10,000 posters.