KEYSER - The July 6 fire that gutted a vacant home on State Street in Keyser has been deemed accidental by the West Virginia State Fire Marshal's Office, but the cause of the fire that destroyed an East Hampshire Street home in Piedmont the day before has not yet been determined.
By Liz Beavers
Tribune Managing Editor
KEYSER - The July 6 fire that gutted a vacant home on State Street in Keyser has been deemed accidental by the West Virginia State Fire Marshal’s Office, but the cause of the fire that destroyed an East Hampshire Street home in Piedmont the day before has not yet been determined.
Fire investigator Joe Vacchio is therefore offering a reward of up to $5,000 for anyone who might have any information leading to the determination of the cause of the Piedmont fire.
Vacchio was kept quite busy in Mineral County earlier this month, as he was called to investigate three fires within a five-day period.
The first was the East Hampshire Street home, which left a family homeless and resulted in injury to one firefighter.
In an interview with the News Tribune Thursday, Vacchio explained that, when investigating a fire, he starts with the least-damaged area and works up to the worst-damaged area, which would indicate where the fire started.
In the case of the East Hampshire Street home, he said he was able to determine the fire started inside the home, but he could not determine the cause.
Vacchio explained that the construction of the home, which he described as an “old world type balloon construction,” caused the home to burn quickly and intensely because it is more open and has no fire stops built in like those found in more recently constructed homes.
“It spread quickly from the first floor to the second floor, to the attic and through the roof because there’s nothing to stop it,” he said.
Because the fire burned so hot, Vacchio said he could not access the area of origin due to safety concerns.
“Looking at the fire scene, talking with the individuals in the area … and being unable to identify the first item that ignited, I cannot say if it’s accidental or incendiary at this point,” he said.
“I am therefore declaring the cause undetermined, and offering a reward of up to $5,000. I need help from the general public.”
The fire on State Street in Keyser, however, was a different matter.
Vacchio said his investigation took him to the back deck, which he placed as the point of origin for the fire.
On or near that deck, he said he found burned lumber, some synthetic material, indoor/outdoor carpeting, the remains of a barbecue grill, the remains of an old fluorescent light fixture, and copper and aluminum wiring.
There was also one other possible cause taken into consideration: “There was an extremley large amount of fireworks going off in the area at the time of the fire,” he said.
Despite some claims by area persons, however, Vacchio said there is not enough evidence to determine that fireworks were the cause any more than a faulty light fixture, the barbecue grill or the wiring.
“I have four potential origins. It has therefore been classifieds as undetermined, with potential accidental causes,” he said.
Vacchio’s third fire occurred in Ridgeley July 10, and involved a vehicle. He was called in to assist the Ridgeley Police Department and that investigation is ongoing.
“Three fires in one county in a week’s time is unusual,” he said.