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Louisville will burn down the home of a chemist arrested for making bombs

Louisville Mayor Craig Greenberg announced plans to conduct the controlled burn at Louisville Metro's Emergency Management Services Tuesday morning.
Roberto Roldan
Louisville Mayor Craig Greenberg announced plans to conduct the controlled burn at Louisville Metro's Emergency Management Services Tuesday morning.

Louisville officials plan to burn down the Highview house of a man who was allegedly making explosives there.

Police arrested 53-year-old Marc Hibel last week on a felony wanton endangerment charge after he admitted to having the explosive chemical TNP, or picric acid, in his home and to making homemade explosives. The Louisville Metro Police Department’s bomb squad exploded a device in the back of one of the properties he was occupying at 6211 and 6213 Applegate Lane. Hibel is a trained chemist.

Mayor Craig Greenberg said at a Tuesday news conference that some chemicals remain in the home, but because of an “extreme hoarding situation,” it’s impossible for a hazmat crew or robot to remove them safely.

“The only option to safely proceed is to incinerate the chemicals inside the home by setting a planned, monitored and controlled burn of the house, which will combust any of the chemicals that are present inside the home,” he said.

Greenberg said experts from Kentucky Emergency Management, Homeland Security, the FBI, and others all agreed that a controlled burn of Hibel’s house was the safest way to eliminate any remaining threat to the public.

City officials are relying on emergency powers to move forward with the burn. Greenberg declared a local state of emergency Monday afternoon, and Louisville Code Enforcement issued an emergency demolition order on Tuesday for Hibel’s house and a detached garage at 6211 Applegate Lane.

Police said they believe Hibel was squatting inside a nearby house at 6213 Applegate Lane, but he does not own the property.

According to his arrest citation, Hibel invited undercover officers into his home and showed them what he said were homemade explosives using TNT. Hibel allegedly claimed to have laboratory-grade equipment and chemicals and showed the officers his homemade explosives.

LMPD Chief Jackie Gwinn-Villaroel said at Tuesday’s press conference that Hibel is currently in jail and barred by court order from returning to the house. She said officers have both of the properties on Applegate Lane under 24/7 surveillance.

“The chemical experiments conducted by Hibel were reckless and highly dangerous,” she said. “Those experiments are over and, because of that, the area is safer than it has been in years.”

Gwinn-Villaroel said LMPD is still analyzing the explosive materials collected from Hibel’s home to better understand the extent of the damage he could have caused if he had detonated them.

City officials did not provide a timeline for when the controlled burn will take place. They said it is dependent on a number of factors, including the weather.

Asked if setting fire to the remaining chemicals will result in an explosion or some other sort of unsafe situation, Greenberg said that his team, along with state and federal partners, are working to understand that.

“All of the advice that we have received is that doing this controlled and monitored and planned burn will incinerate these chemicals at a very high temperature,” he said.

Greenberg said the fire would be set remotely and residents living close to Hibel’s home may need to evacuate before and during the controlled burn.

“If and when we do that, we will also be sure there is a shelter for people to go for that short duration period of time, so that they can have access to air conditioning, water, food and other things like that,” he said.

Louisville Metro will hold a meeting next Tuesday to hear from residents living near Hibel’s house. Officials have not yet released a location and time.

City workers plan to go door-to-door in the neighborhood to inform residents about the meeting.

Roberto Roldan is the City Politics and Government Reporter for WFPL. Email Roberto at rroldan@lpm.org.

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