Phone call about West Fertilizer plant fire may have saved family's lives

Man says if family had been inside their home, they might have not survived plant explosion

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WEST, Texas - Willy Zahirniak, a Marine, has seen a war zone, but never thought he'd see it in his own backyard.

Three weeks ago, the West Fertilizer plant, less than a mile away from his home, exploded leaving 14 people dead and another 200 injured.

On that night, Zahirniak received a phone call about a fire at the plant. If it weren't for that call, Zahirniak said he might not be here to tell his story.

"'Papa there's a big fire.' So I go out of the house, my wife said let's go to the corner for a better view because school was blocking our view," said Zahirniak. "By the time we get to the corner, everything blasts. If we were in the house right now, we wouldn't be here."

Thursday morning, from the ground, authorities gave a tour of the fertilizer plant damage.

The Assistant State Fire Marshal said they have 29 law enforcement agencies working to find a cause. He said there's 15-acres of debris that they have to sift through and they are only 50 percent through.

Authorities said the process has been challenging.

"You put the personal factor into it, the fatalities and finding the answers, those are all things we've had to go through," said Zahirniak.

For homeowners like Zahirniak, they hope the cause will lead to future safety measures that could prevent something like this from happening again.

"We've been here for 45 years. Same place, only house I've ever bought. We're going to rebuild," said Zahirniak.

It will be another two weeks before we have the results of the investigation. As authorities sift through the damage, they're also trying to figure out how much fertilizer was in the plant. There may have been up to 270 tons.

The cause of the fire is unknown but authorities said it will be intentional, accidental or undetermined. The estimated cause of the damage from the explosion is $100 million.

On Thursday, West city officials held a press conference announcing that they have named the Waco Foundation West, a Texas disaster relief fund as the designated fund for the charitable contributions.

If you would like to submit a donation, make checks payable to Waco Foundation and note the West Texas Disaster Relief Efforts Relief Fund, 1105 Wooded Acres, suite 701, Waco, Texas as 76710 or head to

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