Will fire cause be found today? | TheUnion.com

Will fire cause be found today?

As a crane steadily removed layers of scorched wood and metal, investigators said Monday the cause of last week’s devastating fire in historic downtown Nevada City might be discovered as early as today.

“Hopefully, tomorrow we should be able to finish up. We took out several tons worth of debris today,” special agent Steve Carman of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms said Monday.

There’s no reason to believe the fire at North Pine and Commercial streets is suspicious, he said. Also, no conclusions on where the fire started have been reached – although investigators are focusing on the attic and first floor.

But the attic, roof and second floor collapsed onto the first floor, and that’s meant a painstaking removal process.

A Robinson Enterprises crane operator on Commercial Street, who couldn’t see debris heaped on the other side of a wall, talked by radio with another worker inside the building.

Together they guided the claw, picking up debris to the operator’s right and dumping it to his left, all in an effort to expose the possible areas of origin.

That process started in the morning and continued until about 7:30 p.m. Some material was hauled to the McCourtney Road Transfer Station for further examination.

The ATF, Nevada City police and fire departments, the Nevada County Consolidated Fire Protection District and California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection are investigating the blaze, which broke out Wednesday morning.

It destroyed the 90-year-old building that housed the Nevada County Probation Department, Friar Tuck’s Restaurant and The Herb Shop, which also had a deli and record store.

The Off Broadstreet theater on Commercial Street has extensive smoke and water damage, and businesses on Broad Street that shared a wall with the destroyed building also have water damage.

ATF’s presence has been questioned by some observers who have never seen the agency respond locally.

Its very name implies a focus on guns and alcohol. The Probation Department had stored guns and ammunition on the second floor, while Friar Tuck’s lost thousands of bottles of wine and liquor on the first floor.

But Carman, who’s part of an ATF National Response Team based in Sacramento, has said the agency also is called upon for large commercial fires.

An ATF official in Washington, D.C., reiterated that Monday.

“Any type of large-scale arson or suspected arson comes into our purview,” said ATF spokesman Brian Burns, adding arson is ruled as a cause in many of its investigations.

About 2,000 rounds of ammunition and eight handguns were stored in the Probation Department, Chief Probation Officer John Wardell said. The fire’s heat caused about five bullets to fire.

“Very few rounds were spent, and those that were didn’t exit the filing cabinet itself,” Wardell said.

The remaining ammunition will be destroyed, but some of the guns, used for training purposes, might be salvageable, he said.

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