Feds: Still too early to tell how fire started | TheUnion.com

Feds: Still too early to tell how fire started

It could be a week or longer before investigators learn the cause of Wednesday’s fire that ripped through a cluster of businesses in downtown Nevada City Wednesday.

“It’s a big job. It’s like an archaeological dig, a little bit at a time,” said special agent Steve Carman of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. “You dig up a layer at a time and compare what you see with the witness statements. You have to try and correlate everything.”

Those layers include the roof and second floor, which collapsed onto the ground floor.

The BATF is looking into the cause with the state fire marshal and California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

BATF’s involvement, because it’s often associated with guns and liquor, fueled speculation about the fire’s possible cause.

But Carman said the agency also investigates commercial fires, and fire probes constitute most of his workload.

“The only connection whatsoever is a commercial building and a fire,” he said.

“We’re charged with enforcing federal arson and explosives laws on any kind of commercial structure nationwide,” he said. “We come in to determine whether or not it was arson, and if it is arson, then we’ll do a follow-up criminal investigation. First we have to determine what the cause of the fire was.”

Although flames on the two-story building at North Pine and Commercial streets were first seen leaping from a second-story window, Carman said, it’s too early to say from which floor the fire originated.

The building is a balloon-frame construction, he said, with a channel that runs along a wall from the floor to the attic.

“So, you could have a small fire on the ground floor, and it could travel all the way to the attic, and it could appear to be an attic fire; and you don’t know the difference,” he said.

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