Federal agents staking out a Bonner County back road late Wednesday recovered 400 pounds of explosives that had been stolen from a North Idaho silver mine.
Eight cases of explosives were found behind a tree in a remote wooded area south of the Pend Oreille River.
The find was a major break for the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, even though some of the stolen stick powder remains missing.
“It’s obviously a relief, but we still have 100 pounds out there,” one ATF agent said.
Authorities said they had received a tip about the location of the explosives. The stick powder apparently was dropped off for safe keeping in a brushy area.
No arrests were made Wednesday.
However, two men were arrested earlier this week in connection with the explosives theft. Federal agents said they still are searching for two more suspects.
Starting at about 3 p.m. Wednesday, several ATF agents and Bonner County sheriff’s deputies had the isolated property - 16 miles southeast of Sandpoint - cordoned off for 5 hours.
The explosives were hidden next to Christine Ramirez’ 10-acre homestead. Ramirez was called to the property by ATF agents and questioned. But she said she knew nothing about the explosives.
“I had no idea it was up here. I really don’t know what’s going on,” Ramirez said. She said the explosives appeared to be on U.S. Forest Service property and not her land.
Only four homes are tucked into the wooded area. Two of the neighbors watched federal agents, trying to gauge what was happening near their secluded homes.
“They wouldn’t tell us a thing. We don’t know what’s going on,” said Barb Duncan.
Federal agents packed the explosives in cardboard boxes and hauled them away in the back seats of two cars.
Agents said the explosives would be taken to a storage site in Spokane.
Authorities have been hunting for the stolen explosives since July 30. On that day, a bunker at the Lucky Friday mine, near Mullan, was broken open, and 500 pounds of explosives taken. The explosives are made of aluminized nitrate emulsion, sometimes called “stick powder.”
Kent Allen Johnson, 31, was arrested Monday in Coeur d’Alene in connection with the stick powder. He led police on a chase that ended when Johnson, then on foot, was hit by a pickup truck.
Corey Lee Miller, 34, of Osburn, Idaho, was arrested Tuesday at his home.
Johnson and Miller each face federal charges of possession of stolen explosive materials. Both are to appear at detention hearings in federal court Friday in Spokane.
A law enforcement source said preliminary information indicates Johnson may have ties to a methamphetamine ring known as The Circle.
That group has been tied to violence and murders in the region.
Authorities also fear the explosives could be used in an attack on government buildings. As a result, security has been tightened at federal building in Spokane, Coeur d’Alene and Sandpoint.
Said one agent Wednesday, “I would not discount that possibility.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo Graphic: Explosives found