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Report: RAC fire likely due to accident
By Mark St.J. Couhig
Forks Forum Editor
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives released a report last week saying the fire that destroyed the Rainforest Arts Center in October 2012 likely was due to an “accidental electrical cause.”
The investigation turned up no evidence of arson. The report’s author, Dane A. Whetsel, said “classic indications of an incendiary (criminal) fire are seemingly absent under currently known facts.”
But Whetsel also said the results of his investigation aren’t conclusive, with the cause of the fire “undetermined.”
He estimated the loss at $10 million.
The building, built circa 1925 as the International Order of Odd Fellows Hall, was home to the Rainforest Arts Center and the Tienda Latina Grocery. Another rental space was empty.
The fire also destroyed the adjacent building at 61 N. Forks Ave., the former home of Dazzled By Twilight.
The 26-page report includes interviews with several Forks residents, including Dr. and Mrs. Stephen Krebeil. Both are active members of the Rainforest Players, which regularly produced plays in the center.
In the end, said Whetsel, “a consistently reasonable conclusion on known facts is that the prominent conduit arc found near the northeast corner of the structure … is a credible source of ignition.”
Whetsel noted that was consistent with comments from Clallam County Fire District 1 Deputy Volunteer Chief Phil Arbeiter, who had “surmised the origin of the fire to be situated at or near the northeast corner of the structure.”
Whetsel said there was no indication anyone had tampered with the equipment. No incendiary device or evidence of forced entry was found.
He said that led him to believe the fire was accidental, but he added a caveat.
Whetsel suggested that additional examination and testing should be conducted by an electrical engineer specializing in fire investigation forensics, saying the test could rule out the possibility that the arc melting on the conduit was caused by the fire itself.
Whetsel said because there’s no indication of criminal activity, the follow-up is a civil matter and that federal involvement should be ended.
Reach Mark Couhig at email@example.com.