WASHINGTON — The preliminary cause for the massive five-alarm fire that drew hundreds of firefighters to a construction site in College Park, Maryland, appears to be accidental, a fire official confirmed Thursday.
“Fire investigators conducted numerous interviews with construction workers that were in the area where the fire started,” said Prince George’s County Fire Department spokesman Mark Brady. “That has led them to believe that the cause is going to be accidental.”
However, the investigation is ongoing, and Brady said at this point he cannot release details regarding what witnesses heard or saw.
“We can’t be more specific until fire investigators have an opportunity to get into the area of origin,” Brady said.
Now, the fire department is asking anyone with video or photographs of the initial phases of the fire to submit them to authorities to aid in the investigation. “If you have any images prior to the fire department’s arrival or just after the fire department’s arrival we are asking you to voluntarily submit your images,” Brady said in an email Thursday afternoon. Images can be emailed to PGFDPIO@co.pg.md.us.
More than 200 firefighters and medics responded about 9:30 a.m. Monday to the Fuse 47 apartment building, at 4700 Berwyn House Rd., which had been under construction.
The subsequent investigation has been hampered by a scene that remains hot, dangerous and unstable. Fire crews are still needed there to douse the building with water.
“That fire burned very intensely for a long period of time, and it’s deep-seated into that rubble,” said Brady. “The building is unsafe.”
A fire engine and ladder truck teams will remain at the site, he said, and will direct high-pressure water hoses on hot spots that continue to flare up periodically.
Damage to the seven-story building is extensive.
“There’s enough damage that it’s quite possible the first four or five floors will have to be demolished,” Brady said.
Sprinkler systems were installed but not yet connected, and fire doors designed to block a fire from spreading had not yet been put in place. The building was slated to have 250 apartments, retail stores and a parking garage and was scheduled for occupancy in July 2017.
Monday’s fire prompted the largest fire response in the history of Prince George’s County and caused an estimated $39 million in damage — the most significant the county has ever seen.
The nearby University of Maryland had to shut down its campus Monday due to stifling smoke that billowed from the scene and blanketed College Park.
WTOP’s Jack Moore contributed to this report.