DETROIT -- The Detroit Fire Department, contradicting a previous statement, says it has not ruled out arson in the investigation of a July 13 fire at UAW headquarters in Detroit.
"The fire could have been accidental or incendiary," Ted Copley, lieutenant and investigator for the department, told Automotive News in an emailed statement Monday.
In July, Copley told Automotive News that arson was "ruled out, but the cause is still undetermined. The rest of the investigation will be handled by private investigators for insurance purposes."
"I was told at the time that they did not think it was arson," Detroit Fire Department Deputy Commissioner Dave Fornell told Automotive News in an interview Monday. "That wasn't a final verdict … When I did some inquiries with the press, I asked investigators and they were saying at that point it was ruled out."
Patrick McNulty, chief of fire investigation in Detroit, told Automotive News Tuesday that initial “telltale signs of arson,” such as gasoline or any kind of accelerant were not found by investigators at the scene of the fire.
“There didn’t appear to be anything abnormal,” McNulty said. “There’s no alarms, nobody going in or out that we saw. [Copley] may have been referring to there was no obvious sign of arson.”
The investigation has not been turned over to insurance companies “except for the forensic evaluation of equipment and devices found within the area of the fire’s origin,” McNulty said in an emailed statement to Automotive News. “This testing pertains to identifying potential equipment faults that may have caused the fire as well as ruling out such potential. This case will remain open pending the results of that examination and any other information received by this office.”
The fire at the UAW took place amid a broadening federal investigation into corruption at the highest levels of the union's leadership. Gary Jones has since resigned as UAW president and was replaced last month by Rory Gamble. Altogether, 13 union and Fiat Chrysler officials have been charged with crimes; 11 have pleaded guilty.
It remains unclear if the Saturday afternoon fire at the union's Solidarity House is part of the broader UAW corruption investigation. The Detroit News last week reported on the federal investigation into the fire, but the current status of that probe is unclear.
The UAW said in a statement on Monday: "While a final report has not been issued by the city fire department or the insurance company, based on previous public statements from the fire inspector and our knowledge of the investigation to date, we do not expect any change to the determination that the fire was caused by an identified equipment malfunction, not an arson."
The city continues to handle the fire investigation, Copley said in the Monday statement.
"The FBI has never contacted me regarding this fire and have not taken over the origin and cause investigation," the statement said. "If the FBI is independently investigating the fire, I have no knowledge of the extent of that investigation."