For Immediate Release - May 23, 2014

Hadley Laundromat Fire Investigation Concludes

State Fire Marshal Coan and Hadley Fire Chief Michael Spanknebel announced their extensive investigation into the cause of the October 27, 2013 fire at the Hadley Coin Op Laundromat has been unable to determine the exact cause of the fire. Coan said, “The fire started directly behind a bank of dryers in the laundromat, but there is not enough evidence to determine specifically which dryer was involved or the exact ignition source.” The insurance company has removed the bank of dryers for possible testing. Coan added, “The State Police investigators assigned to my office will always continue to work on a case if new information is developed.”

The fire at 206 Russell Street destroyed a strip mall housing eleven businesses in addition to the laundromat and two apartments on the second floor. Damages are estimated at over $1 million and one firefighter received minor injuries.

Chief Spanknebel said, “This was a difficult fire to fight. I want to thank all the mutual aid companies from surrounding communities and commend all the firefighters who worked so hard to control this fire. In addition, I want to thank the state and federal agencies for leading the fire investigation and for their extensive work on trying to determine the cause of the fire.”

The fire was jointly investigated by the Hadley Fire and Police Departments, the Office of the State Fire Marshal, and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). The ATF frequently joins the investigative team for fires involving commercial buildings.

Witness-Driven Protocol

Massachusetts uses a witness-driven protocol of fire investigation. Investigators want to interview people who know the building or saw the fire start as quickly as possible while memories are fresh or before those displaced by the fire become hard to locate. Investigators compare the witness statements to the evidence found in the forensic scene examination to determine the cause of the fire. With possibly a large number of people to interview quickly, the benefit of the added manpower a team investigation brings is obvious. Investigators compare notes and often need to re-interview witnesses for clarification. A deep understanding of fire behavior is essential to evaluating witness statements.

Origin and Cause Determination

Massachusetts fire investigators use the process as outlined in the National Fire Protection Association Standard 921: Guide for Fire and Explosion Investigations. They work to first determine the point of origin of the fire and then its cause. Once they are able to determine the point of origin, they often rely on witness statements to identify the possible sources of ignition at that point and then work to eliminate each possible ignition source, one by one, until they are left with only one most probable cause. If they cannot do so, they are required by the standard to leave the fire as undetermined.

Fire investigators are trained to examine a fire scene by going from the least amount of burn damage to the point or points with the most amount of burn damage. The rationale being that the fire has been burning longest where the most damage is and that is often where the fire began. In addition, analyzing burn patterns that can help reveal how the fire spread, how hot it was and how long it burned.

Coan said, “It is a challenge to determine the cause of the fire when so much of the needed evidence is destroyed by the fire itself.”