State fire investigators are blaming the March 21 fire that killed four residents of a Wells group home on human action, and officials said Wednesday that a criminal investigation is under way.
A news release issued Wednesday by the state Department of State, parent agency to the investigating unit, the state office of Fire Prevention and Control, said “all accidental and natural ignition sources present in and around the area of origin were examined and eliminated, with the cause of the fire determined to have been the result of human action.”
State Department spokesman Joel Barkin declined to be more specific about the term “human action” and would not specify whether the action was intentional.
Barkin said his agency is now effectively done with its probe. Fire Prevention and Control’s cause and origin and code and compliance reports have been turned over to Hamilton County District Attorney James Curry and the state police, which is conducting the criminal investigation, Barkin said.
The county grand jury is conducting its own investigation.
The fire started in the early morning hours near or on the back porch of the year-old group home, quickly spreading and causing the deaths of four of the nine developmentally disabled residents. The two staff members on duty that night safely evacuated the other five.
Nicole Weinstein, spokeswoman for the state Office of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities, declined to call the fire arson and promised more information in a statement. By late Wednesday evening, OMRDD had yet to issue that statement.
In its compliance review, Fire Prevention and Control found no code violations in the design or construction of the building, but it did cite violations it called “behavioral in nature,” including that OMRDD required by contract that the alarm monitoring company first contact the group home rather than the fire department; a failure of the inspector to fully document the testing of all components of the fire alarm/detection system; and the existence of obstructions in the path of travel to exit the building.
The compliance review has been submitted to OMRDD for use by a recently appointed panel evaluating that agency’s fire safety “policies, procedures and practices,” the news release said.
That an “ongoing, active criminal investigation” was in progress was not widely known.
“It’s absolutely news to me,” said Wells town Supervisor Brian Towers, who was at the fire scene as a volunteer firefighter.
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Categories: Schenectady County