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Report’s Release Takes Five Days

Fire Chief Larry R. Tunstall says he finished his executive summary of the investigation after talking with investigators and submitted it to the city manager’s office Monday morning, April 5. It was released to the public Thursday afternoon, April 8.

For typical fires that’s no big deal. But this was a fire that destroyed more than 20 buildings and will likely lead to multimillion-dollar insurance lawsuit. While arson was largely ruled out, that isn’t official until the investigation concludes.

City Manager Calvin Jamison and much of his staff were out of town, at the National Forum of Black Public Administrators in Philadelphia, from April 3-7. Jamison returned to his office Thursday afternoon, and the results couldn’t be released until he gave the OK, Tunstall says.

Jamison says he received the report in Philadelphia on Tuesday, April 6, and sent it back to his staff with his stamp of approval on Wednesday. His staff took the report from there. He isn’t bothered by the delay.

“The key here is to make sure everybody has a chance to review it,” Jamison says.

He adds: “Beyond the report is a discussion about what actually transpired. When you are running a major organization, you have to ask a lot of questions to make sure all the bases have been covered.”

Because the fire was declared a “local emergency,” Tunstall says the city manager played a more integral role in the process; hence, he needed to approve the contents of the report before releasing it. The fire chief calls the delay insignificant.

“I don’t think it made much of a difference in anybody’s life,” he says. “There was nothing earth-shattering in the report.”

While investigators aren’t certain, they say the fire likely started from still-lighted cigarette butts tossed into a trash chute at the construction site of the unfinished apartment complex on Broad Street. The cigarette butts found in trash bags that contained combustible materials — such as sawdust — probably ignited the fire. — Scott Bass

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