BEAVER DAM (WKOW) - Authorities say FBI specialists in Quantico, Virginia and bomb experts in Beaver Dam confirm a controlled burn of an apartment building destroyed all explosive material inside the now-demolished structure.
Beaver Dam Fire Chief Alan Mannel says the operation was a success, with no one hurt, and only the siding of an adjacent apartment building damaged. Authorities said burning the dangerous material was the only option, after suspected bomb maker Benjamin Morrow died when his unit exploded March 5, damaging other units, with explosive remains too dangerous to remove. Two controlled detonations took place to try to neutralize the highly volatile chemicals.
Mannel says drones recording thermal images of Thursday's burn helped an incident command team track the fire's progress and impact. Air sensors placed around the controlled burn gauged air quality, as flames rose and black smoke billowed high into the sky above the city of 16,000. Mannel says evacuated residents of nearby apartment buildings were waiting for clearance from staff members of the Environmental Protection Agency before returning to their homes.
Mayor Becky Glewen says FBI bomb squad technicians were able to enter the building on Knaup Drive before the controlled burn, armed with an inventory of the most cherished possessions of displaced residents to remove.
"If they get to the photo albums, that's what I wanted the most," displaced resident Kathy Hagen said before a truck load of recovered mementos arrived at a Beaver Dam Catholic Church community center for return to their owners.
"We were so elated," Hagen says of the reaction to the work of the bomb technicians.
Authorities originally believed it would be too dangerous to attempt such retrievals. During the controlled burn, several of Beaver Dam's major thoroughfares were closed off.
The 28-year old Morrow worked as a quality control technician at Richelieu Foods in Beaver Dam, and as an associate scientist at a Middleton pharmaceutical company before that. Authorities have made no comment on Morrow's motive for amassing a cache of highly volatile materials, and records related to police searches in connection with the explosion incident have been sealed by a judge, who cited concerns over alerting potential co-actors. Authorities subsequently said Morrow acted alone, and terrorism was not suspected.
Only half of the people in the fifteen apartment units in the torched building had renter's insurance. Glewen reminds the community while the burn site is now longer a hazard and a corner is being turned in the response to the situation, displaced tenants are still recovering and will need help.