Byline: Shawna Sundin and Matthew I. Pinzur, Times-Union staff writers
Boxes of explosives discovered yesterday at a South Metro public storage facility forced police to close Interstate 95 for hours during the evening rush and evacuate about 100 people from homes, car dealerships and motels on Philips Highway.
Several crates of dynamite and C-4, thought to have been sitting in the unit for more than a year, were harmlessly destroyed or taken from the scene by 9:30 p.m. Much of the dynamite had become too unstable to move and was burned with diesel fuel, said Lt. C.O. Williams Jr. of the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office. The remaining dynamite and the C-4, a plastic explosive, was moved to another location in a secure holding tank and will be destroyed.
Owners of the storage facility found the explosives when, during a routine check, they found the lock cut on the unit. Within an hour of their 2 p.m. call to police, evacuations began for an eight-block area around the Public Storage site at 2415 Philips Highway and the entire 10-officer bomb squad was on the scene.
Both the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms and the Federal Bureau of Investigation sent agents to the scene, which police said was standard for such situations.
Police located the lessee of the unit yesterday, but he or she was not identified last night. Various state and federal laws govern storage of explosives, and Assistant Chief Mark Bowen of the bomb squad said individuals cannot legally obtain C-4.
Neither Public Storage's local manager nor a spokesman from the company's corporate headquarters in Glendale, Calif., returned telephone calls yesterday.
By 5:25 p.m., police closed I-95 from Emerson Street to the I-10 split. Exits at Atlantic Boulevard were reopened about 6:30 last night and the entire highway reopened by 8.
Philips Highway was not reopened until nearly 10 p.m., though, and traffic was snarled across the city for much of the evening.
Had the materiel exploded, Bowen said the explosion would have done "significant damage" for blocks.
"It was extremely volatile," Bowen said. "Any time you have that much explosives, it's volatile."
Demolitions experts said the dynamite was likely far more dangerous than the C-4, the common name for Composition-4 explosive.
"It is the same consistency as Play-Doh. It can be stable," said Ron Wood, owner of Explosives and Diving Services Inc. in Clarksville, and a retired Navy explosive ordnance expert. "That is what the military considers a field-safe explosive. …