200 Pounds of Explosives Stolen From Police


A task force of federal agents and local police, concerned about acts of violence on the eve of the new millennium, was working overtime Wednesday to figure out who stole 200 pounds of explosives from a police bunker in the hills outside Fresno.

“We have a great concern, and we’re not going to hide that concern,” said Fresno Police Chief Ed Winchester, whose officers have joined the FBI, the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the Fresno County Sheriff’s Department in the probe.

The explosives--125 pounds of dynamite and the military explosive C4 and 75 pounds of gunpowder--were stolen between Saturday and Monday from a concrete and earthen bunker about 20 miles northeast of Fresno near the foothill town of Auberry. The bunker belongs to the Fresno Police Department bomb squad and was secured by a chain link fence and two heavy doors but had no burglar alarm.


“If you’re an engineer, you can take down a high-rise with that. But if you put it all in a box and set it next to a wall, it wouldn’t do much other than to destroy some of that wall,” said Police Lt. Andy Hall.

The timing of the heist, and the fact that it took some sophistication to pull off, heightened concerns.

“We’re looking at increasing security for New Year’s, and we’re reassessing our deployment in light of this,” Winchester said. “We are taking a look at potential targets within our city.”

Fresno Mayor Jim Patterson said the city’s millennium celebrations will go on as planned.

No suspects had been identified Wednesday. Authorities said it did take some skill to get through the chain link fence and past two steel doors that safeguard hundreds of pounds of explosives and blasting caps stored in the bunker. And authorities don’t know precisely how the thief or thieves got inside because the locks themselves were taken, an act of cover-up that might indicate a skilled burglar.

Then again, investigators said, the blasting caps needed to detonate the 12 pounds of military explosives were left behind, as well as hundreds of pounds of more powerful explosives.

“It’s a real mystery,” said Dan Cervantes, a spokesman for the Fresno County sheriff’s office. “The C4 explosive is made out of pliable plastic and it’s extremely stable. You need the proper detonator to use it and they left those behind in the bunker. So what does that tell us?


“What’s obviously got us all bothered is the timing of this thing. This stuff is stolen a week before the New Year’s Eve. Is that coincidence or something more?”

A local resident noticed that the chain fence was open and contacted authorities Tuesday. The bunker, half-embedded in a hill, is about 8 feet wide, 12 feet deep and 10 feet high. Many residents of Auberry did not know what the bunker contained until hearing of the break-in.

The Fresno bomb squad uses the explosives to destroy ammunition and bombs confiscated in the central San Joaquin Valley. Since the break-in, authorities said, the remaining explosives have been moved to a more secure spot.

In Sacramento this month, authorities arrested two suspected members of a California militia group who allegedly were part of a plot to blow up a huge propane storage facility.

Both men have pleaded not guilty to federal weapons charges, and said through their lawyers that they knew nothing about a plot that officials say was intended to spark a rebellion against the U.S. government.

Dynamite thefts are not unknown in these parts. On Nov. 14, about 100 pounds of stick dynamite was stolen from a lumber company’s storage facility in Tuolumne County. No one has been arrested.