Recent fires in Galesburg investigated

August 31, 2012 03:10 PM
The Galesburg Fire Department has experienced several significant structure fires this summer. This includes commercial facilities at Peoples Do-It Center fire, the former Hawkinson Manufacturing building, Wonder Bread Store, and Speedee Delivery Company. In addition, the department has responded to several residential fires in the last few months. The department's investigation team, led by Firefighters Mike Whitson and Brock Schmitt with support from Fire Marshal Dan Foley, has been working diligently to determine fire origin and cause in each of these fires. The team receives support from the Galesburg Police Department Special Operations Unit while also collaborating with investigators from insurance companies as well as state and federal agencies.
Although several of these fires are still under investigation, the department has made some determinations. The area of fire origin at the Peoples Do-It Center on April 28 was near the radial arm saw in the east side of the structure. The cause has not been fully determined, but the presence of large amounts of sawdust likely contributed to the rapid spread of fire.
The former Hawkinson Manufacturing building fire on June 12 is undetermined at this time. There have been extensive examinations of the physical evidence as well as many interviews with the owner, tenants, and witnesses.
On August 15, the department responded to a residential fire at 1066 Garden Lane. This accidental fire that started in a kitchen wastebasket is being attributed to human error.
The August 18 fire at the Wonder Bread Store on Grand Avenue originated in the rear offices in the retail portion of the structure. The cause is still being investigated.
The recent fire at Speedy Delivery on August 28 started in the engine compartment of one of the eight delivery vans in the building. It appears this van, which was the oldest of the fleet, was used within a time frame prior to the fire that would be consistent with providing cause.
A residential fire at 373 North Cherry Street on the same morning originated in the area of an attic exhaust fan.
In a fire event, the majority of physical evidence may be damaged to the extent that special laboratory equipment is necessary to determine the role that evidence may have played in the burning process. In some cases, the collection of physical evidence is often totally consumed or burned beyond recognition. The process also includes conducting thorough interviews with witnesses, building owners, tenants, and employees to determine the events leading up to the fire. The results can be a mixture of contrasting information with little hard facts to support solid conclusions. An investigator must rule out all other potential causes before coming to a single conclusion on cause. It is not abnormal or unwise to leave a fire listed as undetermined as even an educated guess can be proven errant when new evidence comes to light weeks, months, and years down the road. In many situations, the area of origin is straightforward, but what transpired in that area to lead to a fire starting is less obvious.
From a fire prevention and protection standpoint, a consistent message in all four of these commercial fires is the lack of a fire sprinkler or fire alarm system. Lacking these protections, the fires were able to grow undetected and unabated for significant minutes to the point that arriving fire units were unable to make an interior attack which very well could have made for a more successful outcome in these incidents.
In addition, the department continues to respond to fires in homes with no working smoke detectors. Residents can greatly improve their family's chance of survival and our ability to save their home with early detection provided by inexpensive smoke detectors. When the department finds the homeowner or tenant without the city and state required detectors, a $75 administrative citation will be issued.
The Fire Department appreciates any information regarding these or other fires in the city. Please contact Fire Marshal Dan Foley at 345-3757 or Fire Investigator Mike Whitson at 345-3716.


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