A few minutes before 7 p.m. this Saturday, residents in downtown Santa Barbara heard a loud explosion accompanied by a large column of smoke emanating from the waterfront’s Pershing Park, named after the General Jack “Blackjack” Pershing, famous for waging war against the Germans during World War I and against Native American tribes in the United States before that. It turned out two bomb squad experts from Vandenberg Air Force Base — working in conjunction with their counterparts with the Santa Barbara Police Department — detonated a vintage hand grenade and mortar shell that had been discovered six hours earlier at a Westside home on the 300 block of Ladera Street.
The two military explosives — as well as four others that were deemed not-live — had been found by family members as they cleaned out their storage shed. The explosives originated with an older relative — dead 40 years — who’d served in the military. The residents called the police, who arrived at 1 p.m. When they determined the explosives were military ordinance, they called Vandenberg Air Force Base, who dispatched two explosives experts to the scene in about three hours.
The explosives were deemed safe enough to move short distances, but not safe enough to make the long haul back to Vandenberg. Police bomb experts concluded the devices needed to be deactivated somewhere else; the surrounding neighborhood was too densely populated and either persons or property could be damaged. Pershing Park provided the necessary space — a radius of 1,000 feet — to detonate the explosives safely.
Police evacuated the park — then sparsely populated — and warned nearby motel and hotel owners. The explosives were buried in a three-foot hole that was dug just outside the first base line of the baseball field from which Babe Ruth reportedly once hit home runs in an exhibition demonstration. A counter-charge was placed on top of the devices and sand bags were placed on top of everything.
With the shout of “Fire in the hole,” the counter-charge was activated to explode both the mortar and grenade and to make sure that any shrapnel blew in a downward trajectory. No one was hurt and the hole has been filled back.
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