April 15, 2013 | Vol. 94, No. 88

'Suspicious' backpack prompts downtown Hurley evacuation

Contents of bag remain under investigation

HURLEY — A backpack left near the front door of Gogebic Taconite’s office in downtown Hurley led to the evacuation of the area for more than six hours Saturday until a bomb squad declared there was no threat.

Larry Holcombe/Daily Globe
A Marathon-Oneida County Bomb Squad technician approaches what authorities called “a suspicious backpack” near the door of Gogebic Taconite office in downtown Hurley Saturday afternoon. After X-raying the satchel remotely, the squad determined there was no danger. Authorities had cordoned off four square blocks around the office located in the 400 block of Silver Street, causing businesses to close and residents to leave their dwellings for more than 6 hours during the middle of the day.

Gogebic Taconite personnel located the backpack near the front door of their office at 402 Silver St. Saturday morning and reported it as a “suspicious item” to police at about 10 a.m., according to Hurley Police Chief Dan Erspamer.

Police cordoned off a four-square block area of downtown, evacuating businesses and apartments along Silver Street, as well as houses on the north side of Iron Street between Third and Fifth avenues.

The Hurley Fire Department, Iron County Sheriff’s Department and Ironwood Public Safety officers responded to the scene, as well as Beacon Ambulance personnel. American Red Cross personnel were also at the scene.

As the area was vacated, officials contacted the Marathon-Oneida County Bomb Squad from Wausau.

The bomb squad arrived around 2:45 p.m. and parked their large truck on Fourth Avenue, between Silver and Iron streets. A technician dressed a heavy green suit with a large helmet walked the few hundred feet to Gogebic Taconite’s front door on the north side of Silver Street.

The black backpack was wedged between the front wall of the building and a Daily Globe vending machine.

The technician set panels next to the backpack that were used to remotely X-ray the backpack. The images were viewed on screen in the bomb squad truck by other squad members, as well as local officers.

“They saw nothing to indicate an explosive device,” said Erspamer.

Squad members opened the backpack and indeed found nothing explosive. Before clearing the scene, a squad member let off a small explosive on the street. Erspamer said it was a “primer charge” brought and activated at the scene by the bomb squad for possible use in their operation. Once it was activated, they had to detonate it, he said.

Erspamer didn’t comment any further on the contents of the backpack, but said the incident remains under investigation by Sgt. Chris Colassaco.

The bomb squad cleared the scene just before 4 p.m. The street was opened shortly afterwards and business owners and residents were notified by authorities that they were allowed to return.

Erspamer thanked the “quick response” of the bomb squad and all area emergency officials, as well as personnel from the Iron County Human Services and Emergency Government offices who remained on alert during the incident.

Gogebic Taconite is planning to open a large open pit iron mine near Upson, Wis., that will cross the border between Iron and Ashland counties. The mine has met opposition from tribal and environmental groups, but has gained support from the local and statewide business community. Attempts to contact the Gogebic Taconite office before deadline were unsuccessful.

While local business was halted Saturday by the evacuation and traffic re-routed around the affected area, quick plans were made to ensure certain services.

Like other businesses, the Post Office was closed and quickly evacuated. Postal employees took the day’s mail to another “secure location” to continue processing it, said postmaster Roberta Brunell.

U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy, R-Weston, was to meet with supporters at the Bell Chalet that afternoon, but the event was moved to another location away from downtown.