Sunday, August 22, 2004

Warehouse rubble smolders


Site monitored until it's safe for inspection

By Dan Klepal
Enquirer staff writer

LOWER PRICE HILL - The massive fire at Queen City Barrel Co. was reduced to smoldering rubble Saturday, as firefighters kept their hoses zeroed in on the demolished warehouse.

Investigators said they expect the fire to keep burning under mounds of rubble until Monday or Tuesday, when they can finally enter the 440,000-square-foot building, move around the debris and douse the flames buried under portions of the building that have collapsed.

The fire started early Thursday evening. A cause has not been determined.

Local fire investigators will be looking for that cause, along with telltale signs of arson, with the help of experts with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) Special Response Team. The team that enters the warehouse will have help from:

• Structural engineers and city building inspectors, who will determine the soundness of the structure.

• Electrical engineers, who will check systems in the building to see if they caused the fire.

• Chemists, who will analyze dangerous chemicals they're likely to encounter from residue in the 40,000 or so barrels at the site.

• State and federal Environmental Protection Agency specialists, who will decide how to clean and where to dispose of the chemicals.

• Dogs trained to sniff out gasoline or other potential signs of arson.

Use of the dogs is a routine part of any fire investigation and does not indicate any suspicion by the Cincinnati Fire Department, said Capt. Dan Rottmueller, the city's lead investigator. Rottmueller said it's impossible to say whether the fire was intentionally set, or whether it was caused by something else, such as faulty electrical wiring, until they get inside.

"It's like a big puzzle," Rottmueller said of the investigation. "We need to understand what was in the building before it collapsed, and understand pieces of the fire - how it spread and how it burned. We've brought in the ATF because they offer equipment and resources that I otherwise wouldn't have available to me."

Surveyors will draw maps of the area around the building, and blueprints will help investigators understand the layout before they enter.

"That will give us an idea of what's inside," said Marty Hill, an ATF special agent based in Cincinnati.

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E-mail dklepal@enquirer.com

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