Snow and Avalanche Center Avalanche News - 2006

Dog finds missing explosives at Snoqualmie Pass
Friday, March 10, 2006 · Last updated 8:26 a.m. PT


HYAK, Wash. -- An avalanche rescue dog found 25 pounds of explosives that had been lost during avalanche control work along I-90 at Snoqualmie Pass.

The dog named Kuri belongs to an avalanche technician involved in the work yesterday to clear heavy snow from avalanche chutes.

The Transportation Department says the 25-pound bag separated from a carrier line and dropped into the snow where crews couldn't find it.

But Kuri sniffed out the detonation cord sticking above the surface of the snow and the explosives were safely recovered.

Kuri the dog defuses trouble by sniffing out missing bag of explosives

By Christine Clarridge, Seattle Times staff reporter

The well-trained nose of Kuri the avalanche dog helped divert a potentially explosive situation Thursday near Snoqualmie Summit.

Kuri, a New Zealand border collie used in avalanche rescues, found a 25-pound white canvas bag of explosive material that had been lost in the snow earlier in the day by a crew doing avalanche control.

A state Department of Transportation (DOT) crew had been clearing snow chutes four miles east of the summit at around 5 a.m. when a drawstring bag filled with ammonium nitrate fuel oil went missing, according to Mike Westbay, communications manager for the DOT's south central region.

"We try to get the snow down because we don't like it when a natural slide comes down," he said. "We don't like it because we will have the highway open and the snow will come down and people will run into it."

The avalanche team was working in whiteout conditions at about 1,300 vertical feet above milepost 57 on Interstate 90 when the bag was lost.

Typically, the team strings five bags of explosives along a cable that is hung clothesline-like along the chute. When detonated, the sound of the blasts causes an avalanche, helping clear the channels of snow, Westbay said.

But the cable came unhooked and one bag fell off.

The crew went ahead and detonated the four remaining bags and then carefully and painstakingly began to sift through the snow brought down by the avalanche onto I-90.

"You can't just get a snowblower and churn through it. That could blow the explosive," Westbay said. The bag had the explosive power of 18 pounds of TNT, he said.

When the crew failed to find the bag they called in a specialist: Kuri, who is also trained to sniff out explosives. The dog, which is owned by avalanche technician Rob Gibson, sniffed around until he found the bag's detonation chord sticking up above the surface of the snow, Westbay said.

If Kuri had not found the missing bag, the team would have had to perform the tedious sifting operation each time snow came down the chutes to make sure the bag didn't end up on I-90. A similar thing happened on Chinook Pass recently when an avalanche crew didn't recover a bag of explosives until spring, Westbay said.

For his efforts, Kuri was rewarded with hugs and kisses.

The avalanche crew is thinking about requesting that explosives come in bags of a different color.

"That's certainly something that came up today," said Westbay.

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