State and local agencies looking into a fire late Saturday that destroyed two historic buildings at the Tama Complex in downtown Burlington met for about two hours Thursday to compare notes and discuss how to move forward with the inquiry.
Burlington Fire Chief Matt Trexel said the meeting, aimed at discussing how the investigation was proceeding, included investigators from the state fire marshal's office, detectives with the Burlington Police Department and insurance investigators.
The meeting was conducted at the Burlington Police Department.
"We are running two separate investigations," he said. "By that I mean the state fire marshal's office, the fire department and police department are conducting one investigation and the insurance investigators are conducting their own inquiry.
"Although they are parallel investigations, we share information with each other like we did today (Thursday)."
Trexel said investigators have conducted interviews with several people this week, including the woman rescued from a third-floor window the night of the fire. Repeating an earlier statement, Trexel said the woman was authorized to be in the building at the time of the fire. However, he wouldn't say if investigators have determined what she was doing inside the building at 11 p.m. Saturday night.
"At this point, we've conducted numerous interviews," he said. "And everyone, including the woman who was rescued, has cooperated with us. ... We don't have anyone we consider a suspect at this point because we really don't know how the fire started."
Trexel said investigators have not ruled out any scenario that could have trigger they blaze, including whether it was accidental or intentionally set.
"We are making progress. We are discovering things, at least from the fire department's perspective, that surprised us," he said, declining to reveal what specifically surprised them.
He also said because of the massive destruction of the two buildings, he has wondered if the cause of the blaze would ever be solved.
"When I left (the scene) Sunday with all the rubble around I didn't know if we would ever be able to determine the exact cause," Trexel said. "But after talking with the investigators from the state fire marshal office, I think there is a strong likelihood we are going to be able figure out the cause of the fire."
In addition to comparing information with each other Thursday, the group also watched videos of the fire taken from police body cameras and dashboard videos, along with videos they have received from the public and from social media.
Investigators also want to know why the buildings had sprinkler systems installed but the sprinklers didn’t work properly.
According to Battalion Chief Bruce Workman, firefighters connected to the sprinkler system and attempted to pump water into it the night of the fire, but were unsuccessful. They later learned the valves to the master control unit in the basement were closed, he said.
Workman said he doesn’t believe it is a code violation the sprinkler system wasn’t working because the building had not been approved for occupancy.
Trexel said the parallel investigations will continue with several more interviews to be conducted in the next few days.
According to Trexel, there were at least 13 subcontractors and their employees working on the complex. He said those people all have to be interviewed because most of them had access to the buildings.
He again reiterated the investigation is in its infant stages and that it is too early to begin speculating on what caused the fire.
Trexel also said investigators still have not determined the amount of damages caused by the blaze. However, he did say the owners of the building told them it was insured for $12 million.
At the time of the blaze, work was nearing completion on a $12.5 million rehabilitation of the buildings, which were to have residential units on the upper stories with commercial space at street-level. Would-be commercial tenants were expected to start moving in during the next couple of weeks.
"We are scheduled to meet again at 9 a.m. Monday to update how the investigation is proceeding," Trexel said, adding that Burlington Fire Marshal Mark Crooks is expected to return from vacation this weekend and will be at Monday's meeting.
Trexel said he expects additional information about the fire will be released following that meeting.