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Franklin fire called accidental

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A Jan. 6 fire that destroyed a Franklin building that housed three businesses started in the attic of one office, but investigators haven’t been able to determine what sparked the blaze.

Three months after the building at 191 Commerce Drive burned, the Franklin Fire Department is closing the investigation and listing the cause as undetermined but accidental.

The fire started in the northeast corner of the building in an office used by Miller Chemical Tech, but investigators can’t pinpoint what ignited the flames.

Fire department investigator Craig Lutz said some reports ordered by a private insurance investigator, including a study by an electrical engineer on the building’s remaining electrical system, haven’t come back yet.

But Franklin Fire Chief John Henderson said the information that has been gathered thus far hasn’t shown signs that the fire was arson and delays in the investigation due to weather have caused any remaining evidence to deteriorate.

The insurance investigator may continue to conduct tests and examine the debris in an attempt to  pinpoint what ignited the fire, but the fire department has investigated as much as it can, Henderson said.

Unfortunately the investigation didn’t lead to a specific ignition source, but more than 40 percent of investigations conducted by fire departments end without an exact cause, he said.

“There was no other reason for us to be involved and it can continue through somebody else who has more resources,” Henderson said.

“We’re completely disappointed that we weren’t able to find it, but the weather has had such a factor in this that it was too much for us to overcome.”

The building burned on Jan. 6, the day after about a foot of snow fell, and the temperature was about 15 degrees below zero.

The fire destroyed the northern two businesses, Miller Chemical Tech and D&H Cheer Co. Fierce Allstars. Doug’s Franklin Auto Care Center, which was on the south end of the building, suffered some damage, but equipment and vehicles were saved.

All three businesses have found other locations in Franklin.

Firefighters spent several hours spraying water on the building, which froze shortly after hitting the ground due to the cold.

That water formed sheets of ice more than a foot thick in some places.

A water main also broke under some debris between the northern two businesses in the building, which added more ice throughout the winter, Franklin Fire Department spokesman Brad Epperson said.

Because the weather remained so cold throughout the winter and so much ice formed, investigators couldn’t safely go inside some parts of the building and couldn’t search areas under the thick ice for weeks, Henderson said.

The building was exposed to the weather during that time, and large amounts of ice started melting, which degraded some signs investigators were looking for, he said.

The insurance investigator may continue conducting more tests and additional interviews. If any new information about the fire is discovered, that could be shared with the fire department, Henderson said.

The building has been released to the property owner since the fire department no longer is investigating.

Fire officials didn’t know how long the insurance company might continue investigating or when the debris would be cleared from the site.

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