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Fire marshal probing Tuesday explosion at former Air Force base

Former McClellan Air Force Base (US Air Force/PublicDomain)

The state fire marshal is investigating a Tuesday explosion at McClellan, officials said Wednesday morning.

Anniston Fire Chief Chris Collins said the Fire Department got a call Tuesday afternoon about a man burned in an explosion at Cassell Way at McClellan, the former Army base on Anniston’s northeast side.

“We responded to a report of an explosion, treated one patient and later had the patient airlifted to Birmingham,” Collins said.

Cassell Way is a short street inside a former Army barracks complex now occupied by Xtreme Concepts, a government contractor that raises working dogs and offers training for security forces.

Tamera Erskine, the attorney for Xtreme, said the victim of the blast suffered burns and broken bones, was in stable condition at UAB Hospital, and was expected to make a full recovery. In an emailed statement, Erskine described the victim as a Marine veteran and explosive ordnance disposal technician who “was injured while disposing of black powder and smokeless powder used during … military working dog training exercises.”

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Neither Erskine nor fire officials released the name of the man who was injured.

In a telephone interview, Erskine said only two employees were present when the explosion occurred — one to destroy the gunpowder and one to oversee the work — and none of the dogs in the Xtreme kennels was nearby.

“It was being disposed of in a correct manner, but accidents still happen,” Erskine said.

Collins on Wednesday morning declined to provide more detail about the explosion, saying the incident was in the hands of the state fire marshal. In an email, Jennifer Bowen, a spokeswoman for state fire marshal Scott Pilgreen, confirmed that the state was investigating but declined further comment.

The barracks complex belongs to the McClellan Development Authority, a civilian body charged with finding new uses for land on the former Army base. Xtreme has leased the site from the MDA since 2015, though in recent months the company and the MDA have been locked in a legal battle.

The MDA earlier this year tried to evict Xtreme, citing delinquent rent payments and claiming that E. coli contamination in Cane Creek may have been caused by dog feces in runoff from the Xtreme site.

In court hearings earlier this year, the MDA also accused the company of running military simulations that include gunfire and explosives in violation of the company’s lease and city ordinances. Xtreme owner Landon Ash testified that the company used “pyrotechnics,” not explosives.

“There’s a difference,” Ash said in the June hearing. “One’s movie magic, one’s explosives.”

Late Tuesday night and also on Wednesday morning, the fence around the Xtreme facility was closed and locked. Workers at the McClellan Medical Mall, an office suite near the Xtreme facility, said they heard no blast but did see ambulances heading toward the site around 5 p.m. Tuesday.

MDA director Julie Moss said MDA staff had heard about the explosion but had no additional information on the incident.

“Hopefully the gentleman is OK,” Moss said.

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© 2019 The Anniston Star