Investigators tentatively rule East Providence fire accidental, likely caused by production process
EAST PROVIDENCE — The Rhode Island State Fire Marshals Office, in conjunction with local and federal officials, has tentatively determined sparks created during the production process ignited what turned into a four alarm blaze Tuesday afternoon, Aug. 20, at the Inferno Wood Pellet Inc. factory located on Ferris Avenue in the Rumford section of the city.
Inspector Paul Manning gave an indication of the cause of the fire when contacted by The Post and eastbayri.com Friday morning, Aug. 23, though he stressed nothing is final and evidence is still being gathered.
"Right now we have a tentative cause. It was accidental, relating to the process going on at the facility at the time," Inspector Manning continued. "The investigation is still ongoing. We're still analyzing the data. There is still information coming in. We want to accumulate as much information as we can so we can more accurately determine what happened."
The location of the fire, in the central part of the 300,000-plus square foot building, has given investigators clues into its point of origin.
Acting East Providence Fire Department Chief Oscar Elmasian offered up a bit more detail on the matter, but like his state counterpart was reluctant to definitively determine the reason for the blaze.
"We believe it's likely sparks created in the area of a grinder ignited dust and other combustibles," Chief Elmasian explained. The chief was formerly the city's fire marshal and lead investigator into similar incidents. Lt. James Bellamy currently serves as the city's acting fire marshal.
Smoke from the fire, which lighted up at approximately 2:30 p.m. Tuesday in the central portion of the structure, engulfed much of the building. East Providence, Providence, Seekonk and Barrington firefighters corralled the blaze in about three hours. A significant portion of the building's roof caved in due to the fire. EPFD firefighters remained on site throughout Tuesday evening and for much of Wednesday as a precautionary measure to contend with any remnants of the blaze, referred to as "hot spots." There weren't any.
"Credit to my guys and all of the other firefighters at the scene. They did a really good job," Chief Elmasian said.
Chief Elmasian said the building has been turned back over to its owners, who, according to city property records, are Ferris Avenue Realty LLC and Granoff Associates in Providence. Neither operates the Inferno Wood Pellet business. The structure, on the property most recently assessed at $$4,020,300, is in need of significant repair, the roof specifically, the Chief added.
The pellet business is owned and operated by the proprietors of J&J Materials in nearby Rehoboth. According to the Rhode Island Secretary of State's office John P. Ferreira is listed as the company president, Deborah A. Dutra as treasurer and Jill A. Zajac. Mr. Ferreira, Ms. Zajac and Gilbert J. Lopes Jr. are listed as directors.
Representatives from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) were on the scene Wednesday, Aug. 21, at the Inferno Pellet building, joining in on the investigation with local and state fire officials.
Chief Elmasian said there wasn't any extraordinary reason for the presence of the federal officials. He said the ATF makes its presence known at any fire that occurs in a business that conducts "interstate commerce," especially one the nature of Inferno Pellet, which specializes in producing wood pellets for residential and industrial heating units. In addition, the Chief said OSHA was on hand because the fire is considered an "industrial accident."