Cause of massive downtown Raleigh fire ‘undetermined,’ report says


RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – A report submitted to Raleigh’s city manager concerning the cause of the March 16 massive five-alarm downtown Raleigh fire classifies the cause as “undetermined.”

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“After 7 days of over 100 investigators following down every lead, and for the weeks afterwards following up on those leads, it really came down that we could not definitively say what started the fire,” said Fire Chief John McGrath.

The Raleigh Fire Department, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Raleigh Police Department, and SBI worked from March 18 to March 24 at the scene investigating the scene of the fire at West Jones Street.

“A number of potential ignition sources were identified within the structure and evaluated,” a release from the City of Raleigh said. “However, after thorough hypothesis, development, testing and evaluation, investigators were unable to definitively eliminate several accidental and incendiary scenarios.”

The report was submitted by the Office of the Fire Chief of the City of Raleigh.

The possible sources of the fire include arson, heating fire started by squatters and electrical sources.

RELATED: Massive downtown fire damages 10 Raleigh buildings, 5 severely

“The viability of numerous potential incendiary and accidental ignition sources dictates this fire to be classified as UNDETERMINED,” the release says.

The main building involved in the fire spread to four other buildings, according to Raleigh fire officials. Overall, 10 buildings were damaged – five severely, said Raleigh Fire Division Chief John Fanning.

This was the largest fire in the city of Raleigh since the 1920s, according to Raleigh Fire Chief John McGrath.

Some of the buildings damaged included an office building and a residential building. The office building had windows blown out on one side and the apartment building suffered heavy smoke damage and also had windows blown out.

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A few hundred people lost power in the immediate area and a construction crane collapsed.

Jason McGuigan was displaced from his condo at the Quorum Center and is now living just down the road.

Many of his belongings were damaged from water and smoke. At this point, he’s concerned with moving on from the fire.

“A cause would be great, but you know I think it’s going to be one of those things that people are disappointed in but not overly surprised,” said McGuigan.

In the meantime, dozens of people are trying to get their lives back in order after such a frightening night.

Around 130 firefighters battled the flames with crews working in 90-minute to 2-hour shifts. In addition to the firefighters, 25 apparatus helped work the fire. Fanning said it was one of the worst fires he’s seen.

The fire caused an estimated $50 million in damage.

The fire was first reported shortly after 10 p.m. and five alarms were quickly sounded.

It took until 1:10 a.m. to get the fire under control, officials said.

McGrath said the fire investigation is not over. If there is more information that becomes available, they will follow up to see if they can narrow down a cause.

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