It was a surprising afternoon for a visiting fireman and his family when a dive into a clear mountain pool in the Chester Flood Control Channel resulted in the find of two homemade pipe bombs.
“He was swimming and sees two pipe-like bombs, something he is familiar with,” Plumas County Sheriff’s Office (PCSO) Acting Sgt. Ian James said July 22. “He knows what a pipe bomb is, the construction of a pipe bomb and the damage it can cause — he’s seen it all in the past.”
From the onset two pipe bombs were reported. The first was described as being 10 inches long and three inches in diameter with two end caps and a blue fuse sticking out. The second was described as being 10 – 12 inches in length, two inches in diameter, also with end caps and a fuse.
They were reported as being submerged under six feet of water.
“The PCSO has not been in the water, we are working off the information from the fireman,” James said.
He also advised that a bomb squad from Butte County had been dispatched earlier and was scheduled to arrive at the diversion dam location between 5 and 6 p.m.
Shortly after 6 p.m. a three-member team arrived from the Butte Inter Agency Bomb Squad. The members included Butte County Sheriff’s Office deputies and bomb technicians Joe Deal and Joel Malinowski and Bomb Squad Commander Rob Sheridan of the Chico Police Department.
Chester Deputy Michael Kincaid was the first on scene and secured the area.
Reserve Deputy Nick Dawson coordinated communications and requested that a CalFire engine and Chester Fire Rescue ambulance also respond to the location.
Once fire and medical were on scene the Butte County team went to work.
The ABCs of the plan, according to Malinowski, included pulling the pipe bombs out of the water, moving them to a safer location and using a piece of equipment called a “destructor” on them.
Sheridan said the team members take turns going after bombs and that it was his turn tonight. He dressed in a swimsuit to enter the water.
According to Deal, Malinowski lost the toss tonight and had to suit up to dispose of the bombs.
While his team members were at the pond, Deal responded to questions about the pipe bombs.
“The fact that it is reported to have a fuse leads us to believe that it may have to be lit to explode, although this is not conclusive,” Deal said.
Sheridan was the first team member to return to the location of the bomb squad van.
At that time he reported that both bombs had been retrieved from the water.
He also said, “These bombs were not next to each other as initially reported. The smaller bomb was about 40 feet away and behind rocks.”
Once it was verified that Malinowski had also cleared the scene and that the five-minute safety interval had passed, Deal exploded the first pipe bomb.
Shortly after the explosion Malinowski returned to the van, too dehydrated to continue.
At approximately 7:35 p.m. Deal suited up and returned to the pool area to rig the second pipe bomb for detonation. In slightly more then 10 minutes Deal returned to the van and advised James the pipe bombs did indeed contain sandwich bags filled with black powder.
The second pipe bomb detonation occurred at 7:54 p.m. and PCSO deputies moved in to take the pipe bombs into evidence.
James said he didn’t believe the pipe bombs were intentionally placed in what the locals refer to as the “last swimming hole before the lake.”
“With this amount of rust on the pipes it looks like they’ve been in the water quite awhile, likely tumbling about in the spring runoff,” he said.
He also offered the opinion that the pipe bombs were probably built by youth in the 18- to 20-year-old range.
“It was likely they were experimenting and they would have to be older to know about galvanized pipe, drilling pipe holes, timed fuses and the other components that went into making the pipe bombs,” James added.
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