ATF traces fire at Weaver building to first floor; investigation will continue
ATF officials announced Friday that the origin of last month's deadly blaze at the Weaver Piano & Organ Co. building could be traced to the first floor.
After following more than 130 investigative leads, the team from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives finished processing the scene of the massive blaze March 21 that claimed the lives of two York City firefighters as the building partially collapsed the next day.
Don Robinson, special agent in charge of the investigation and a field agent from the Philadelphia division of ATF, gave an update on findings at a news conference Friday, March 30, at the York Fire Training School, 330 Emig Road.
Cause: "We have no indication at this point that this was the result of an intentional act, although the possibility of someone initiating a fire using available combustibles inside the building could not be conclusively ruled out," he said.
Robinson said investigators identified several potential accidental fire causes, and those items are subject to further testing. Electrical and fire protection engineers are working with the team, which pulled out every piece of electrical equipment in the building, he said.
Investigators are trying to rule out every possible source of ignition for the fire, Robinson said, but it's not an easy task.
"We've got a four-story building that did collapse," he said. "That makes it very difficult for investigators who are looking for burn patterns and indications of fire dynamics inside the structure."
Robinson said normally the team would want to work its way through the building from least to most damage, moving through each floor,
"When that's all collapsed in a big pile, it makes it very challenging," he said.
The cause of the fire has been classified as undetermined at this time, Robinson said.
Robinson said a team of 18 to 25 ATF agents worked with York City and state police in the investigation, and some of the ATF agents came to York directly from Austin, Texas, where they were investigating the deadly bombings there.
Next steps: An origin and cause report will be finalized in the coming weeks, followed by a technical review, and then documents will be handed over to investigating police.
Though the on-scene investigation has been completed and the site turned over to the property owner, Robinson said, the overall investigation remains open.
Harrisburg ATF field agents, Pennsylvania State Police and other local departments will continue to follow up on new leads and public input, he said.
"The certified fire investigator in (the Harrisburg office of ATF) is going to continue with that investigation," Special Agent Charlene Hennessy said when reached earlier in the day Friday.
Hennessy, a public information officer for the Philadelphia field division of the ATF, has said the four firefighters were on the fourth floor during the collapse.
A team of ATF experts were, piece by piece, "methodically excavating layers" of that debris, she said.
"It's always a possibility," Robinson said, when asked if there was a chance that a cause would not be found, but he knows ATF and other agencies involved are doing everything they can.
"Everybody here is so dedicated to trying to get answers for the family," he said.
Background: A fire broke out at the old Weaver Piano & Organ Co. building at 127 N. Broad St. on March 21.
Firefighters Zachary Anthony and Ivan Flanscha died and two other firefighters were injured when part of the building collapsed March 22. They were there that day putting out hot spots in the building.
Flanscha, 50, and Anthony, 29, were transported to York Hospital, where they were pronounced dead. Assistant Fire Chief Greg Altland and firefighter Erik Swanson were taken to the hospital and have since been released.
Flanscha had been with the department since 1999. He was named firefighter of the year in 2004. Anthony had been with the department since 2010.
A memorial service was held Wednesday, March 28, at York Expo Center's Memorial Hall. Thousands of firefighters from all over the country and beyond showed up to pay their respects.
On Friday afternoon, crews were taking down the building. By about 2:30 p.m., more than half of the building was gone.
Hennessy said the team had been there investigating since March 23, the day after the fatal collapse.
— Reach Christopher Dornblaser at email@example.com or on Twitter at @YDDornblaser.