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Live military flare in mail at O'Hare

A live M49A1 Trip Flare capable of reaching temperatures of 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit if ignited, was found in a package at the international mail facility at O'Hare last week. / photo from U.S. Customs and Border Protection

A live military trip flare capable of reaching a temperature of about 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit was intercepted by federal agents checking outgoing mail at O’Hare last week, avoiding a potential “catastrophic event.”

Chicago Customs and Border Protection agents found the Vietnam-era military incendiary device while examining outbound mail packages from the airport’s international mail facility Thursday, according to a release from CBP. The item was manifested as a “military training dummie” valued at $55 and was being shipped from Missouri to Japan.

“… a military incendiary device was intercepted by CBP officers thus avoiding a potential catastrophic event,” David Murphy, CBP director of field operations in Chicago said in a statement.

CBP spokesman Brian Bell said the device could have activated if someone had pulled the pin or if it had come out by itself if the package was shaken.

“If you can imagine something capable putting off that much heat igniting in the belly of a plane, it is not a good thing,” he said.

Prior to seizure, CBP officers spoke with the shipper, who said the item was acquired from an estate sale and sold online. The Chicago Police Bomb & Arson Section was contacted and determined it was a live incendiary device – a phosphorous-based flare M49A1, the release said.

U.S. Postal inspectors and the Bomb & Arson officers rendered the device safe and destroyed it, the release said.

Bell said the case remains under investigation; but it is not believed there was harmful intent by the shipper.

“This was not an act of terrorism or potential terrorism,” he said. “It seems to be a case of someone shipping something and having no idea what it was.”

The M49A1 Trip Flare is an early warning signaling device used to warn of infiltrating troops by illuminating the area surrounding the trip flare, the release said. It will provide a light intensity exceeding 35,000 candle power for about one minute and can reach a temperature of almost 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit, the release said.