A new report on the Blackstock lumber company fire in 1989 in which a Seattle firefighter died indicates the blaze may have been set by transients and apparently was not a high-tech arson fire.
A recent study by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms concludes that many fires believed to have been started by “high-temperature accelerants,” such as rocket fuel, were not set with space-age flammables, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported Wednesday in a copyright story.
The new report by the Seattle Fire Department concludes the Blackstock fire may have been accidentally set by transients, the P-I reported.
“We always figured it was just bums cooking hot dogs,” a police source told the newspaper.
Investigators had theorized the fire was set by an arsonist who was setting fires around the country with exotic chemicals that left no trace but burned so hot they could vaporize steel.
The clues included a videotape of the fire that showed white flames, indicating the extremely hot temperatures associated with a hightemperature accelerant, or HTA, fire. Witnesses also reported seeing pyrotechnics similar to fireworks, another sign of an HTA blaze.
The fire department’s arson squad chief, Capt. Ray Risdon, said he ordered the new investigation of the fire.
“Based on the new information, the fire has been downsized from HTA to a finding of undetermined,” Risdon said.
That does not necessarily mean the blaze was set accidentally, he added.
“In the end, we may not be able to come up with an absolute determination,” he said.
The ATF study, which also has not been made public, studied Blackstock and 24 other possible HTA fires. The study concludes Blackstock was probably not an HTA fire, the P-I reported.
There has been only one confirmed HTA fire, and the study identified only four potential ones, which did not include Blackstock, said ATF special agent Steve Carman, who wrote the study.
“There is no evidence that I’ve seen to support the theory that we have a giant conspiracy, or even a small conspiracy, with some mad scientist running around the country,” Carman told the P-I.
Carman’s report said new evidence indicates some lumber might have been stored in the Blackstock building, after all, allowing the fire to burn more intensely. Some electrical power apparently remained in the building as well, which could have caused the observed pyrotechnics, the report said.
But although the report classifies Blackstock as “unlikely” to be an HTA fire, it also cautions that “conclusions dismissing the possibility that flammable liquids had been used as the primary accelerant seem unfounded.”
Jim Blackstock, co-owner of the lumber company, said he was visited about three months ago by an ATF agent who indicated officials no longer believed the fire was arson.
“That’s nice to know, that somebody wasn’t out to target us,” he said.
He also said there was no motive to burn the building intentionally.
“There wasn’t any insurance on the building, water had been turned off. … It was basically an abandoned shell of a building,” he said.