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Thieves Make Off With 500 Pounds Of Explosives Burglars With Acetylene Torch Break Into Lucky Friday Mine

Investigators are trying to find 500 pounds of explosives stolen Sunday in a daring daylight burglary at a North Idaho silver mine.

Authorities say the theft is the first major one in the region in more than a decade.

The highly explosive “stick powder” was stolen from the Lucky Friday mine near Mullan after a similar break-in at the Coeur mine near Osburn.

The stolen “stick powder” contains half the explosive force of the fertilizer bomb that destroyed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in April, killing 168 people.

The Coeur is not operating and no explosives were stored in its locked explosives building on Saturday, authorities say.

But at the Lucky Friday, the thieves were luckier.

They got away with 10 50-pound cardboard boxes of dynamitelike explosives - about a pickup-truck load - and 8,000 feet of detonator cord from the mine’s powder magazine.

In both burglaries, thieves used an acetylene torch to cut steel-encased padlocks on metal doors of concretewalled buildings.

“Somebody wanted this stuff real badly,” Shoshone County Sheriff Dan Schierman said Monday. He wouldn’t speculate on a motive.

The Lucky Friday theft occurred sometime between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. at its powder bunker, which is built into a hillside about a quarter mile from the mine entrance.

At the time, eight miners were working underground at the property, owned by Hecla Mining Co. of Coeur d’Alene, said company spokeswoman Vicki Veltkamp.

“It seems as though it was well-planned,” Veltkamp said.

The grounds are patrolled at night, but new security measures are now being planned, Veltkamp said.

The thieves apparently parked their vehicle outside a locked access road gate. They used a portable cutting torch on the powder bunker’s metal door, the sheriff said.

Once inside, they grabbed the 10 cardboard boxes and carried them about 300 feet to where the vehicle apparently was parked.

The mining explosive - called “stick powder” by miners - was in two sizes: 1-1/8-inch by 16-inch sizes and 1-1/2 inch by 16-inch sizes.

Placed in a metal pipe, one pound of the sausage-like explosive could heavily damage a car and kill anyone in it, a federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agent said.

The explosive and the detonator fuse usually are ignited with a blasting cap. None of those were stolen, but they are commonly used in construction and mining.

The stolen explosives were only a fraction of the materials in the bunker.

Hecla uses 1,500 pounds of the explosive a day in its underground hardrock mining operations at the Lucky Friday, visible from Interstate 90 at Mullan.

The company buys the aluminized nitrate emulsion from a Deer Park supplier. The cardboard boxes are stamped: “Class A explosive. ICI Explosives. Super-frac.”

ATF agents and sheriff’s deputies say they are without solid leads in either of the Shoshone County burglaries.

However, authorities say they want to talk with anyone who may have seen an older, brown station wagon on Sunday near the Lucky Friday mine. Authorities did not elaborate.

“There aren’t any suspects at this time,” said Robert Harper, ATF supervisor in Spokane.

Frequently in such thefts, he said, the suspects turn out to be youths looking for more fun than a firecracker or industry competitors.

“A lot of times, we see competitors stealing from one another,” whether it’s in mining, road-building or stump removal, Harper said.

Storage and sale of explosives are federally regulated, and buyers must have state licenses.

One explosives company in the area won’t sell to licensed buyers unless they have $1 million worth of insurance.

“It’s quite possible that the person behind this is just somebody with a mining claim who wants to go gold mining and just can’t get the explosives they need,” said one industry expert who asked not to be identified.

Every year, the expert said, 4 billion pounds of explosives are used in the United States in construction, mining and other industry purposes.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Map of area


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