FDNY fire marshals: NYPD evidence warehouse fire caused by electrical blowout
The blaze injured 3 firefighters and 3 EMS providers while destroying DNA evidence
By Thomas Tracy
New York Daily News
NEW YORK — An “electrical blowout” that may have been sparked by a generator created the massive December Brooklyn blaze that destroyed an NYPD evidence warehouse — as well as scores of DNA samples used in criminal cases, the FDNY revealed Thursday.
With the exception of just eight salvaged barrels, all of the evidence stored in the warehouse was lost in the inferno at the Erie Basin Auto Pound on Columbia St. in Red Hook on Dec. 13, officials said.
Power to the building had been supplied by generators for more than a decade, ever since Hurricane Sandy knocked the warehouse off the city’s power grid in 2012, FDNY officials said.
It was believed from the start the fire was not suspicious and now an exhaustive investigation by FDNY fire marshals has determined it was accidental and sparked by an electric short.
“(The fire was) caused by an electrical blowout in a conduit leading to an exit sign,” the FDNY tweeted.
The power surge may have been caused by a generator. The warehouse was never put back on the grid, an FDNY official said. Generators do not provide a steady source of power and are susceptible to surges, the official said.
“Relating to the physical structure, a comprehensive capital project to address the electrical grid was in progress, and construction was about to commence,” a NYPD spokesperson said Thursday.
The thick black smoke from the massive fire could be seen for miles.
The flames spread too quickly for the building’s sprinkler system to extinguish the blaze, with an FDNY spokesman at the time explaining the fire was already “very advanced” when firefighters arrived.
NYPD sources confirmed the DNA stored in the warehouse involved cases from 2012 and earlier, with some of the evidence stored in 55-gallon drums.
The department is working with local prosecutors’ offices on a “case-by-case basis to verify the location and status of each specific evidence request.”
The evidence had already been processed but was being stored in case it was needed again in appeals, wrongful conviction lawsuits or if detectives wanted to give the samples a “second look” and have them retested with new technology, sources said.
“The facility is really old and antiquated, including the electrical system,” a police source said in December. “Cold case files got destroyed. Vehicles got destroyed and [police vehicles] involved in line-of-duty deaths.”
The fire could stymie efforts to overturn wrongful convictions, attorney Cary London said in December.
“If evidence was destroyed that relates to clients with pending wrongful conviction cases, this could be the end of the line,” London said. “The destruction of evidence could be the nail in the coffin for those clients, unfortunately.”
Another law enforcement source said most of the DNA evidence stored in the building was previously tested and “authorities should be able to move forward with those cases even without the physical item.”
Fourteen NYPD employees and six contractors were working in the warehouse when one of the contractors saw smoke coming from a “high shelf,” police said.
The warehouse also contained hundreds of seized e-bikes, dirt bikes, all-terrain vehicles and vehicles held as evidence in criminal investigations, such as cars that victims were shot inside, cops said.
Three firefighters, three EMS members and two civilians suffered minor injuries, authorities said.