An explosive device was found and safely detonated near the town of Italy on Sunday, the Ellis County Sheriff’s Office confirmed.
Federal explosive disposal specialists safely detonated an old mortar shell found in the Chambers Creek area of Italy, an Ellis County municipality located between Dallas and Waco, over the weekend. The munition was found on a dry riverbed section of Chambers Creek by a fisherman who promptly contacted the county sheriff’s office on Sunday afternoon.
Ellis County Sheriff’s Office contacted the ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) and U.S. Air Force Explosive Ordnance Division for help dealing with the object, which was determined to be an old but live military-issue mortar shell.
According to a CBS News report, the sheriff’s office responded to the call and ordered the closure of Highway 77 while deputies waited for ATF agents to arrive.
The mortar shell was covered with mud and barnacles, as it was likely at the bottom of the creek for quite a while. It was spotted thanks to the historically low water levels of Chambers Creek, which has been deeply impacted by high temperatures and drought conditions.
Video of the mortar shell prior to detonation was posted by Channel 5 News, the NBC affiliate serving the Dallas-Fort Worth broadcast market. Although no markings can be seen on the casing of the munition, its shape and size suggest that it was a standard, military-issued 81 mm round, which has been used by Army and Marine Corps infantry units since World War II.
It appears to have been a high-explosive shell with a lethal radius of about 30 meters (32 yards), hence the precautionary decision to block off traffic on Highway 77. There was no need for an evacuation order to be issued because most of Chambers Creek is located in an unpopulated area.
The controlled detonation of the mortar shell was carried out without injury to persons or damage to property. A search of the area did not yield any other shells or explosive devices.
Officials did not offer any theories as to how the shell may have ended up at the bottom of the creek. Military veterans formerly assigned to artillery or infantry units are known to keep inert training shells, also known as dummy rounds, as mementos of their service, but this was a live munition.
This part of Texas does not feature military installations, with the exception of an old Air Force flight training school that was shut down before the Vietnam War. Even the nearest U.S. Army Reserve Training Center and a Civil Air Patrol office are too far from Ellis County for the shell to have landed in Chambers Creek without exploding.
Given the approximate age of the mortar shell, its casing would have been of interest to Texas ammunition collectors who trade inert and obsolete rounds for historical purposes. Sales of mortar shells or artillery rounds are prohibited in Texas unless they have been fully deactivated. In general, sales of crew-served weapons and corresponding war munitions are off-limits to the American public.