The cause of the H&B blaze on March 17th, may never be known.
We caught up with Guy Deschenes, fire inspector with the Chatham-Kent Fire Department, who provided an update on the H&B fire investigation.
Deschenes said the fire scene is not safe to go in and investigate, and it was not handed over to police because of suspected criminal activity.
“The area that burnt was kind of a half storey on that building, an old cafeteria essentially,” he said. “It was supported by an 18-inch thick high beam, the heat deformed the structure so much it was just not safe to be under that investigating. The floor area is not safe, the area above your head is not safe. I noted that that large high beam had twisted and deflected probably three of four feet in any direction. I’m not an engineer, but just standing and looking at it I’m wondering ‘do I really want to go stand under that. There was nothing safe about it.”
Deschenes added: “We do not have resources to go in there with cranes and remove that sort of stuff to possibly figure out what started that fire. We did not hand it over to police because we determined it to be as a result of criminal activity.”
The Chatham-Kent Fire Department and Chatham-Kent Police Service work together at every fire scene, Deschenes said.
“The criteria for handing it to police is under the Fire Prevention and Protection Act, as soon as I make a determination that there was criminal activity I have to hand it over,” Deschenes said. “However, that being said, this is not what happened in this case. The reason at this time that police continue to investigate to my knowledge is that it is a large loss fire. The reason that I don’t continue to investigate at this time, is that it was not structurally safe to do that.”
Deschenes said they did consult with the Ontario Fire Marshall about the H&B blaze.
“There was extensive consultation,” he said. “You have to weigh out what benefit it would be to go further with it. To go further, it would involve an engineer study, it would involve some very big equipment and then we bring in investigators at that time. I guess that is the same with any investigation, how much resources are going to be poured on the thing. Typically in cases where there is a death or a definite arson, then we’ll go further. Essentially it was a building that wasn’t in use and nobody was hurt, that’s what happens. It’s not unusual when there is a large structure fire that it can’t be investigated due to an unsafe structure.”
Deschenes said the firefighters worked diligently on this fire.
“They needed a fair amount of equipment on scene,” he said. “They called in for an aerial fire truck from Chatham to support the Wallaceburg one. They put a lot of water on it, I don’t know exactly how much. I get called in after the fact, I get called to do an assessment of the scene and all that, to make sure it is safe to go in and investigate.”
Deschenes said the black smoke billowing from the building was a result of the burning asphalt roof.
“All structure fires produce toxic smoke, that is the bottom line,” he said. “What we had with this structure fire, the black smoke was from built-up asphalt roof. The older style roof some of them were using pitch and tar, that is not even allowed today. I didn’t do a chemical analysis… but there were layers of tar paper, that’s just nasty stuff. As far as being an environmental concern, every fire is and we treat it that way. We try to prevent run-off… we’ll try to prevent run-off into any natural waterways.
Deschenes said he can’t determine at this time whether the cause of the blaze will ever be figured out.
“We see fires everyday and we see them start in all kinds of ways that you can’t even imagine,” he said. “I don’t always go arson, it is definitely possible, but it could possibly be so many different things. I’m not going to speculate on that.”
Here is our coverage so far about this story: