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Fire Marshal: Bruegger's fire investigation unusually long

BY ERIC MOORE | NOVEMBER 16, 2011 7:20 AM

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Local fire and police officials have spent more than $7,100 and 164 hours investigating the cause of a late-September fire at a local Bruegger's Bagel Bakery.

Iowa City Fire Marshal John Grier, the lead investigator for the case, said the time, money, and the extent of the damage were unusual.

"It's taken much more time than your typical run-of-the-mill fire," Grier said. "The magnitude of this one was different just because the amount of debris."

The fire at the 225 Iowa Ave. property reportedly started early in the morning of Sept. 24. The fire quickly spread to nearby buildings and was reported by local officials to be under control at 7:30 a.m.

Grier said it's difficult to average the amount of money spent on fire investigations because of the varying circumstances in each incident.

He said typically most investigations are completed in fewer than eight hours.

"Bruegger's is certainly on the end of the scale in terms of what's normal," Grier said. "Depending on the extent of the incident, that would certainly vary."

Though officials are not searching for evidence at the scene, the investigation still ongoing.

Grier said the investigative team is required to determine what caused the fire, or whether the cause is "undeterminable."

"We don't just willy-nilly say something; we want to be sure," Grier said. "If new evidence comes to light later on, then we can always go in and change the determination, but you want to be pretty sure."

Iowa City Fire Chief Andrew Rocca said the investigation's cost did not entirely require extra compensation; some investigators involved were already on duty with set pay during the time of the investigation.

"If a fire occurs, and they happen to be on duty, they would investigate it to the best of their ability," Rocca said. "They may request additional assistance from the fire marshal and additional investigators who may or may not be on duty."

Rocca said additional assistance became necessary during and following the fire.

Ron Humphrey, the special agent in charge of the State Fire Marshal's Arson and Explosives Bureau, works on the criminal side of fire investigations.

"A majority of our fires are accidental or undetermined and the others are arson," Humphrey said. "We may have a fire that we will never know [the cause]."

Humphrey iterated Grier's opinion regarding the various lengths of investigations.

"It just depends upon many factors that go into that case," he said, adding he has cases open from late 2008.

Grier said the goal of the investigation is to determine the cause of the fire and how it could have been prevented.

"The idea of the investigation is not to point the finger at somebody … We want to make things safer, make machines safer," Grier said. "How can we educate, how can we engineer, how can we do things a little differently so they don't happen again?"

Grier will attend a hearing Thursday and Friday to examine results from laboratory examinations of evidence left at the scene.

He said depending on the results of this evidence, the investigation could be completed following a review.

"We'll see if they provide any insight into what's happened, and after that's done, I think that'll be as much as I can do," Grier said.


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