Explosion near US-26 kills 1 on forest land

The stretch of US-26 between mileposts 47 and 52 was shut down until 9 p.m.

An explosion on US Forest Service land brought ATF agents to US-26 east of Welches, March 19, 2015 (KOIN 6 News)
An explosion on US Forest Service land brought ATF agents to US-26 east of Welches, March 19, 2015 (KOIN 6 News)

WELCHES, Ore. (KOIN 6) — An explosion along US Highway 26 killed one person, blocked a 5-mile stretch and brought a heavy federal presence to an area about six miles east of Welches.

The Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office received the report of the explosion around 6:30 a.m. near milepost 48. Deputies found a vehicle on US Forest Service Land around 7:30 a.m. with evidence of the explosion nearby.

The Mt. Hood Highway between mileposts 47 and 52 reopened at 9 p.m.

The explosion

An explosion along US26 near Welches caused a 5-mile stretch to be closed, March 19, 2015 (KOIN 6 News)
An explosion along US26 near Welches caused a 5-mile stretch to be closed, March 19, 2015 (KOIN 6 News)

The US Forest Service called for help from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Three agents from the Portland field office arrived soon after.

The FBI became the lead agency into the investigation in the early afternoon.

No details have been released about the person who died, and the cause of death will be released by the medical examiner, FBI spokesperson Beth Anne Steele said.

Officials have not released a cause of the explosion, and said no agents were injured.

She added there is no indication this was an act of terrorism.

Steele said an explosive detonated around 6:25 a.m. Bomb technicians and a robot checked the scene and were still working to make sure the car left near the scene was safe. The car did suffer some damage, she said.

It appeared the explosion happened outside the car, and debris was found in a wide area in and around the road, she said. The FBI will collect evidence from the scene once it is clear.

She declined to say if the explosion was accidental or intentional.

The large response from 11 agencies was due to the fact the explosion happened “on a state highway in a national forest. It’s certainly something of a concern.”

They have not found any other explosive devices at this time, Steele said.

Nate Thompson with the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office said the area is populated with “mostly vacation cabins.”

Drivers stuck in traffic

With this stretch of US-26 closed, many drivers were stuck in traffic with spotty cell phone service and limited availability to get the word to others.

Cesar Alonso said he was supposed to be at work, “but I’m stuck here. I don’t have no service so I can’t call anyone.”

Jacob Beuselinck was on his way to snowboard at Timberline. “My friend is bummed out because I’m not up there snowboarding with him, but we’re optimistic. We’re not giving up.”

Jeff Miller was headed to a lunch in the area, but said he would “just turn around and go back to Portland.”

KOIN 6 News will have more information as soon as possible.

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