ATF joins investigation into Calif. blaze that injured 4 FFs
One of the Chula Vista firefighters sustained second-degree burns over 20% of his body
The San Diego Union-Tribune
CHULA VISTA, Calif. — Federal agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives have joined the investigation into the three-alarm fire that tore through a Chula Vista retail store Monday night and injured four firefighters.
The ATF's National Response Team began processing the scene Thursday, and are working together with the Chula Vista Fire Department's investigation team and ATF personnel from the agency's Los Angeles Field Division, according to ATF Los Angeles spokeswoman Ginger Colbrun.
"We called them because of the size of the building, it would be taxing our resources" to investigate it alone, Chula Vista fire spokeswoman Capt. Linda D'Orsi said Thursday. "With them, we're going to get through it in three to five days ... Without them, it would be a really lengthy process."
Monday's blaze erupted around 5:40 p.m. on the second floor of Action Footwear and Apparel off H Street west of Broadway. Flames ripped through the building, collapsing the roof onto the second floor, and the second floor onto the first, D'Orsi said.
Investigators don't yet know the cause and origin of the fire "because everything's pancaked on itself," D'Orsi said.
A Chula Vista firefighter sustained second-degree burns over 20 percent of his body while battling the blaze, according to D'Orsi. He remained hospitalized Thursday night at UC San Diego Medical Center's burn unit, but was "in good spirits" and is expected to be released from the hospital within a few days, according to the captain.
Two other firefighters sustained unspecified minor injuries, and a fourth suffered an ankle injury.
Crews battled wind and rain Monday night to fight the flames, which raged for nearly three hours before firefighters finally knocked them down.
A certified fire investigator from the ATF initially responded to help Chula Vista fire investigators, but officials later determined more resources would be needed, according to Colburn.
"Based upon the size of the building, the amount of fire damage, and the firefighter injuries, Chula Vista Fire Department requested the assistance of ATF's ( National Response Team)," Colburn said in a statement.
D'Orsi said the federal team is made up of more than 20 investigators who will split into two teams — one will process the physical evidence at the scene, while the other team will focus on interviews and other investigative leads.
The ATF National Response Team last deployed to San Diego in July, to help investigate the blaze that tore through the USS Bonhomme Richard. The team deploys nationwide within 24 hours of being requested, using high-tech equipment and working with investigators "to reconstruct the scene, identify the seat of the blast or origin of the fire and determine the cause of an incident," ATF officials said in a news release.
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