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SpaceX Starship explosion started fire and sent debris flying, FBI says

The launch of SpaceX’s starship is considered the world’s most powerful rocket exploded over Texas last week and sparked many conversations among space enthusiasts, but it also sparked a 3.5-acre fire in a state park.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service provided details on the fallout from the launch on Wednesday.

In addition to the fire, wildlife officials said in a statement, large chunks of concrete and sheets of stainless steel were among the items found thousands of yards away. Officials also found a cloud of pulverized concrete deposited material 6.5 miles northwest of the launch pad.

SpaceX launched its Starship from Boca Chica, Tex., Thursday morning from a pad next to the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge. Around four minutes later, the unmanned rocket exploded over the Gulf of Mexico.

Because of the rocket’s sheer size, the launch alone was considered a success by many experts, The Washington Post previously reported. Explosions, they warned, are often part of the trial-and-error process with ambitious rockets. However, it was the launch before the explosion that federal officials were investigating.

Officials found no debris on refuge-owned lands, but staff documented about 385 acres of debris at SpaceX’s facility and in Boca Chica State Park, which is leased by the Fish and Wildlife Service and managed as part of refuge lands. The 3.5-acre fire also burned in Boca Chica State Park.

“At this time, no dead birds or wildlife have been found on refuge-owned or managed lands,” the federal wildlife service said.

The Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1979 and covers 40,000 acres. The refuge is home to 1,200 types of plants along with 700 species of vertebrates, including nearly 500 species of birds, and 300 types of butterflies, according to a federal park description of the refuge.

“You’ll find 11 different biological communities, from Chihuahuan thorn forest to tidal wetlands,” says a primer for refuge visitors. “A rare ocelot merges with the shadowy brush. A pair of crested caracaras glide across the river. A Mexican blue-winged butterfly flutters into view, while gorgeous kiskadees cry an insistent ‘kis-ka-dee, kis-ka-dee.’

Prior to the Starship launch, Cameron County officials announced the closure of Texas Highway 4 and Boca Chica Beach. It was supposed to reopen Friday, but the closure lasted until Saturday, which federal wildlife officials said prevented their staff from accessing refuge-owned and managed land.

The agency announced that it has been in contact with SpaceX “to provide guidance on the ground to minimize further impacts and reduce long-term damage to natural resources.” They are also coordinating with the Federal Aviation Administration on their assessment of the site and seeing if they have any recommendations on how to comply with the Endangered Species Act.

Anumita Kaur contributed to this report.

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