Archive for Saturday, March 8, 1997

FIRE CAUSE STILL NOT KNOWN

March 8, 1997

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A KU engineer who has inspected fire-damaged buildings said he's not surprised a cause of last week's downtown fire hasn't been determined.

An electrical engineer called to the aftermath of last week's downtown fire will be looking at a variety of possible causes and ruling out others, an electrical fire expert at Kansas University said.

"In many cases the missing link and the focus is what was the source of ignition," said Dale Rummer, KU electrical engineering professor emeritus who has done about 12 such investigations for insurance companies and attorneys.

"In some cases it may be an electrical appliance, a defective electrical cord. The possibilities ... are really quite large from an electrical point of view," he said.

"Then, there are always other (non electrical) candidates."

Lawrence-Douglas County Fire and Medical Director Jim McSwain said this week that an insurance company has hired an electrical engineer following the fire, which significantly damaged buildings at 802 and 804 Mass. and at 9 E. Eighth.

Damage has been estimated at $1 million.

Investigators were focusing on a connected basement storage area as the place where the fire started.

A cause still was not known Thursday, McSwain said. But he has said that investigators are not considering arson.

"Having identified the point of origin of the fire, one then looks to determine if anything in that area -- or if there was anything in that area -- that could have been the source of ignition," Rummer said.

He said investigators can decipher the difference between appliances or wires that have been damaged by fire from being the source of a fire, through careful inspection.

"In some cases (external damage) is very clear, because the damage is on the outside of the device," he said. "Wiring is the same sort of thing."

If damage appears to be within an appliance or wiring, that could be a cause, he said.

Rummer said that just as an engineer can determine whether the cause was electrical, it also could be ruled out.

"It depends on the circumstances, but there are some cases alleged to be electrical and evidence just isn't there. There are other cases where it's very open and shut that it is."

Rummer said that he was not surprised that it has taken more than a week for investigators to announce a probable cause.

"I would assume it's just being cautious."

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