Police: Explosion likely caused by Tannerite

  • The site of the likely Tannerite explosion in New Ipswich. MAPS4NEWS

  • A canister of exploding target, similar to what is believed to be the cause of an explosion in New Ipswich last week, for sale at Old Glory Guns and Ammo in Mason. (Ashley Saari / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Staff photo by Ashley Saari—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Monday, July 31, 2017 10:53PM

New Ipswich police believe the event which shook homes Wednesday night in Temple and New Ipswich took place at a sand pit on Turnpike Road and involved Tannerite, an explosive material used for target practice.

New Ipswich Police Chief Tim Carpenter guessed the blast, which happened around 9 p.m., was caused by a significant amount of Tannerite. The sand pit where Carpenter thinks the explosion took place is located at 841 Turnpike Road, near Turnpike Auto. 

No one was injured, according to a New Ipswich police log released Friday, though Carpenter said the department wasn't sure who set off the blast as of last week.

The first call about the explosion came from a resident on Greenbriar Road. Firefighters and police split up and tried to locate the source of the blast, but were unsuccessful.

"It's actually kind of a shot in the dark, quite honestly," Carpenter said. 

Tannerite is a relatively stable explosive. It only goes off when shot with a high-velocity bullet. Tannerite, a combination of ammonium nitrate and aluminium powder, is legal in New Hampshire and can be purchased online or at any local gun shop. 

At Old Glory Guns and Ammo in Mason, Tannerite is sold in two-pound containers. It's mostly popular around holidays, like the Fourth of July, according to  Justin Walters, a customer service manager at the store.

“It’s fun, it’s a very stable compound... and it makes a nice loud kaboom,” Walters said.

A two-pound target, which must be mixed before using, sells for $19.99 online.

Carpenter, who has worked in New Ipswich since 2003, has noticed an increase in Tannerite usage over the last two-and-a-half years. He says there’s nothing illegal about the substance and the blast came at 9 p.m., about one hour before the town’s noise ordinance kicks in at 10 p.m. But he said “it’s very inconsiderate, at the very least. Certainly not the safest thing to be doing.”

New Ipswich police are still investigating the incident. A vehicle was spotted near the sand pit by witnesses in the area, according to the log. Carpenter said there likely won’t be any charges “unless we determine there’s damage caused by this.”

Cecilia E. Long, who lives on North Road, said her sink cracked after the explosion. Several people reported on social media that picture frames fell from walls and from shelves.

Samantha Febonio, of New Ipswich, posted a Facebook comment Wednesday night that read, “What in God’s name is that explosion? I’m terrified.”

In a message to the Ledger-Transcript, Febonio, who lives on Main Street, said she heard a loud blast and felt a boom that shook her entire house a few minutes before 9 p.m. She said she didn’t see a flash of light.

“I literally thought a nuke had dropped in the distance and my whole upper body went numb while I sat there waiting to die,” Febonio said. “It was so loud.”

Febonio said when she was young she heard a lightning bolt that went down a tree and hit a rock that was similar in sound to the explosion on Wednesday night. Febonio said she has lived in town since January and has noticed that there are constant fireworks and loud noises going off. But, she said, this one was different.

“I’ve never heard anything like this before,” she said.

Amanda Grenier, who lives on Manley Road off of Main Street in New Ipswich, was catching up on work on her laptop when she felt the explosion.

“I thought it sounded like a major car accident or someone literally hitting into my house with a car,” said Grenier. “It was shockingly loud, and shook the whole building.”

No data on the explosion was included on the United States Geological Survey website, which keeps real-time data of earthquakes.

There was speculation that the explosion was caused by a sonic boom, similar to the noise that shook homes in Keene back in 2014. The Massachusetts Air National Guard confirmed the 2014 noise came from its jets, but said the pilots were operating at subsonic speeds, according to reports.

“I’ve got nothing to substantiate that at all,” said Carpenter of the sonic boom. “We’ve got no information indicating that there were jets that were flying in that area.”

Public affairs officers with the Air National Guard in Vermont, Massachusetts and New Hampshire said there weren’t any scheduled training flights at 9 p.m.

Most of the evidence pointed to Tannerite and the town’s sand pits, which are popular places for target practice, Carpenter said.

In April of 2015, New Ipswich police responded to a large Tannerite-related explosion at a beaver dam near Stowell and Greenfarm Road. Police made “multiple arrests” for the “reckless use of the Tannerite and for the destruction of a beaver dam,” according to a post on the New Ipswich Police Department Facebook page.

Youtube is full of videos of people using Tannerite to blow things up like fridges, tree stumps and vehicles. One person used 164 pounds of Tannerite to blow up a barn. And some people use Tannerite at parties where they reveal the gender of their unborn child.

Thomas Riley of the state fire marshal’s office said he gets a handful of questions from local law enforcement about Tannerite. He said he doesn’t have an opinion on the explosive.

“It’s when they start to use it inappropriately that it could create a hazardous situation,” Riley said.

New Ipswich Fire Chief Meredith Lund, who lives on Willard Road, said she felt Wednesday’s explosion.

“It actually rocked my house,” said Lund.

She said her department has “periodically” responded to explosion calls over the years.

“By the time the cops get to where they think it is, they are long gone,” Lund said.

Lund issued a statement on Facebook, encouraging safety. Lund says as annoying as the sounds are, her department is more than happy to go out and check the area.

“I just don’t want to people to get immune to it, I appreciate the fact that people call it in,” Lund said.

Ledger-Transcript reporter Abby Kessler contributed to this report.