S.F. ordnance finds not unusual

The day after a downtown street was closed for an afternoon during an explosives scare late last month, police removed a World War II-era bazooka round from a backyard in the Upper Haight.

“It was a practice round from a World War II-era 2.36-[inch] rocket launcher,” said police Sgt. Darby Reid, who responded to a call the evening of Aug. 23.

Workers preparing the apartment in the 900 block of Stanyan Street for rental said they discovered the shell on the ground after cutting weeds in the backyard. Coincidentally, they said, a police officer happened to be looking at a house for sale next door and noticed the round sitting on the freshly cut grass.

The apartment has been vacant for more than a year since the former resident died, said a neighbor, Susan, who did not want her last name used. Natal Christopher Fioranelli was 97, Susan said, had lived in the apartment for about 50 years. He had several old guns on plaques on his wall, she said.

The discovery came the day after another piece of old military ordnance caused a stretch of Sixth Street near Market Street to be closed for two hours. In that incident, a tenant at a residential hotel had been keeping an unexploded mortar round in his room. When he went to the hospital for an unrelated illness, a neighbor took advantage of his absence to call police about the shell.

U.S. Air Force Sgt. Richard Dula said such finds are usually rare in the Bay Area — happening fewer than 20 times per year. Dula, who works with the Explosive Ordnance Disposal Unit out of Travis Air Force Base, said unexploded ordnance is more commonly found on old military bases that are being renovated and on some beaches where it can wash up.

“Normally, for the older stuff, especially stuff thatwas used in World War II or Vietnam, people will bring home war souvenirs,” Dula said. “They'll stick it in a box in the attic, and then whenever they die or sell the house, someone else will find it and they don't know what to do with it.”

If you find what appears to be unexploded military ordnance, Dula said, the best course of action is to call the local police or sheriff, then stay clear and keep others clear of the area until authorities arrive to remove it. Unless it’s absolutely necessary, do not move the item, Dula said. Explosives become more sensitive as they age but do not lose their power.

Although criminal charges are highly unlikely against someone who finds their uncle’s old collection of hand grenades, Dula said, soldiers taking home war souvenirs face severe discipline if caught. “They definitely prosecute you under the Uniform Code of Military Justice if you bring home war souvenirs,” he said.

amartin@examiner.com

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