For those still waiting for a final pronouncement on the cause of the Eastern Market fire of April 30, 2007, be prepared to wait a little longer…maybe forever. As the City Paper reported in December (Cover Story, “Was This Really an Accident?”), various D.C. Fire & EMS personnel believe (and a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives report insinuates) that the three-alarm fire started on the outside of the building—-a synopsis that contradicts the publicly stated opinions of District Fire Chief Dennis L. Rubin, who believes the inferno was caused by an electrical problem.
Eight months later, things are still muddled.
In the most recent issue of the Hill Rag, Rubin appears to be hanging tough with his original conclusion. Referring to a “final report” on the market fire, he explains that the blaze “was determined to be electrical in nature with four or five suspected sources, but accidental in nature.”
But the report Rubin is referring to, authored by D.C. Fire employee and certified fire investigator Sgt. Phillip C. Proctor, doesn’t corroborate Rubin’s outlook. With 10 pages of painstaking detail followed by a one-paragraph conclusion, Proctor’s report is, at the very least, noncommittal. “Based on a systematic fire scene examination,” it surmises, “witness statements, and all the available information to date, it is the opinion of the undersigned that the origin of the area of this fire is near the west wall (Side C) of the structure. The exact point of origin has not been identified at this time. The cause of this fire has not been determined and is currently still under investigation.”
Not exactly the wrap-up a “final report” would merit.
The most damning blow to Rubin’s electrical-accident hypothesis, however, isn’t found in the ambiguity of the report’s conclusion, but in a bit of juicy info appearing on Page 8, where Proctor mimics—-verbatim-0z—a bullet found in the ATF report on the fire:
All evidence of electrical activity found during this investigation was a victim of the fire and not its cause.
Fire department public information officer Alan Etter says in an e-mail he doesn’t think Chief Rubin’s statements and Proctor’s report are at odds.
“I think while the cause of the fire has not been definitively determined, anyone who’s looked at [the report] thinks it was caused by malfunctioning electrical equipment,” he writes. He adds that Chief Rubin was just “saying what everyone who’s looked at [the report] is sure of.”
(Photograph by Arthur Delaney)