The Freedom Valley Chronicles The Millennium Fire: Part Sixteen Montgomery County Office Of The District Attorney Statement

In a joint investigation with other governmental entities, the Office of the District Attorney of Montgomery County released a statement detailing the source of the Millennium Fire that took place on August 13, 2008.

The governmental leaders who issued this statement were Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman, Conshohocken Borough Police Chief James Dougherty, Conshohocken Fire Marshall John McGrath, and Pennsylvania State Police Captain David Young.

The statement detailed how the fire started at Stables At Millennium, an apartment complex under construction, and then spread to the adjoining Riverwalk At Millennium, a residential rental complex that was home to hundreds of people, and to the adjoining Millennium III Office Building, a structure filled with workers.

According to the joint statement issued on August 18, 2008, “Investigators concluded that the origin of the fire was the molten metal (slag) and sparks generated by the workmen [at the construction site] using the oxyacetylene torch to cut the steel frames. Pieces of hot slag can lodge in cracks or joints at a site and not be visible to an observer.”

“Investigators believe that hot slag and sparks generated by the torch were left at the scene but not obviously visible to the workers when they left,” the statement continued. “Over the hour following the workers’ departure, this material heated the wood to its ignition temperature and eventually ignited the wood frame of the building.”

You can read the joint statement in its entirety by clicking here.

The Millennium Fire started at the construction site of Stables At Millennium, seen to the right in this photograph. The fire spread from the construction site to residential homes occupied by hundreds of people at Riverwalk At Millennium, seen to the left in this photo.

“Investigators at the scene found there were five buildings under construction with three configured into one “u-shaped” structure,” according to the joint statement. “The bottom floor of the buildings, designed as the garage, was constructed of steel and concrete. This structure served as a platform for four, wood-framed floors. The buildings had been framed and with floors, exterior walls and a roof in some places. The construction had not yet reached the point of installation of drywall partitions or any electrical systems. Some electrical lines had been run into the building to operate electric power tools and work lights. Gas lines had been installed in some places, but they were not connected to the gas main.”

Portions of concrete walls are all that remained standing the day after the fire at Stables At Millennium. Damage can be seen in the background at Riverwalk At Millennium.

The investigators found that the workers were using the oxyacetylene torch to cut some of the steel frames that had been installed in an incorrect fashion. From the joint statement:

“Six steel frames had been installed along the top edge of the cement that were designed to be used to anchor cement balconies. These frames had been installed incorrectly and had to be removed. In order to cut them out, workers used an oxy-acetylene torch to cut them off. An oxy-acetylene torch is a gas powered tool that uses an extremely hot flame to cut steel. Such a tool typically throws off hot sparks and molten metal known as “slag”. The workmen used the torch to cut off the frames working from south to north, but were unable to complete the removal because they started to run out of oxygen.”

“The workmen stopped cutting at approximately 2:30 PM and returned to the location approximately an hour later to check the scene,” the report continued. “At that time, they saw no evidence of any residual problem from their work with the torch and they left the site shortly thereafter. Approximately one hour later, witnesses from a nearby building noticed a small fire in the area where the workmen had been cutting earlier. They immediately called 911 and firefighters responded.”

The conclusion of the joint investigation:

“After an extensive investigation, fire investigators determined that the cause of the fire was accidental. They concluded the fire was caused by the ignition of ordinary combustibles ignited by sparks from an oxyacetylene torch.”

The first photograph is courtesy of Mr. Dan Berger, August 13, 2008.

The second photograph is courtesy of Mr. TrafficDan Miller, August 14, 2008.

The third photograph is courtesy of the Honey Brook Fire Company Keystone, August 14, 2008.

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