By Yadira Betances
---- — LAWRENCE — Two dozen bottle bombs have been found throughout North Lawrence since March 25, including one unexploded device discovered Tuesday near the Hennessey School on Hancock Street.
That device was found yards away from the charred remains of three homes that burned in a five-alarm blaze last Saturday.
But Fire Capt. Bob Wilson said there is likely no connection between the bottle bombs found in recent weeks and Saturday’s fire, though the incident remains under investigation.
While the remains of the exploded devices found so far have yet to spark any fires in the city, they have become a concern for law enforcement, causing the Massachusetts State Police and state Fire Marshal’s office to join the investigation.
“It looks very benign, but it causes quite an explosion,” said Wilson, who heads the city’s Fire Prevention Investigation Unit. “Our fear is that they will graduate to making bigger and better ones.”
The ones found so far have come in a variety of sizes, from 16-ounce plastic water bottles to 2-liter soda bottles and contain household chemicals that, when mixed, cause a small explosion. They have been found in alleyways, parking lots and quiet streets.
“I think they’re doing it for the thrill of it because we don’t see any secondary damage,” Wilson said about the bomb makers.
Wilson said such devices are all dangerous, but the degree of damage one can cause depends on the quantity and chemicals used in the explosives.
Fire Chief Jack Bergeron said it’s dangerous to make the bombs, or stand near them during the explosions. If the chemicals spill then they can damage the skin, causing a lot of pain.
“Most of the ones that we’ve seen present more hazard to the kids using them than to the public,” Bergeron said. “They don’t know the danger of the chemicals they’re using. They’re only going to harm themselves and is not worth the risk for a thrill.
“My worst fear is that some child is going to go near that bottle and when it explodes, he will get hit with plastic shrapnel or splashed with some of the chemicals,” Bergeron said.
Bergeron said the city has seen its share of incidents with bottle explosives over the years, “but never to this extent.”
Wilson acknowledged the discovery of the bottle explosives will add an element of anxiety to residents who are already on edge because of recent fires.
“We hope to move quickly and swiftly to put an end to this without anyone getting hurt,” Wilson said.
He added that there are no suspects, but the department is pursuing leads.
“This is an ongoing and very active investigation because this is something we don’t take lightly,” Wilson said.
He explained that the goal is not so much to punish those making the devices, but to educate them, as well as the public, about the dangers of bottle bombs.
The Lawrence Fire Department has a Junior Firefighter program which is mandatory for children and teens to attend if they are charged with a fire-related crime.
“We use the courts as leverage to make sure parents urge their children to attend the classes,” Wilson said.