Arson was almost immediately ruled out after a July fire in the IT department at the UAW’s Detroit headquarters, though it was never clear why, exactly, especially since the fire occurred amid one of the biggest corruption scandals in UAW history. Now, the Detroit Fire Department says, uh, nevermind about that, it could still be arson.
The fire has been a weird one, for sure. Firefighters first got a call about it around noon on Saturday July 13, and eventually nine fire engines were called to battle the blaze. A UAW spokesman told me last week that the cause was “equipment malfunction” and that “the fire marshal determined long ago that there was no arson,” but before that The Detroit News reported that federal investigators had subpoenaed security camera footage and visitor logs in their own investigation. Those subpoenas were amid a wider inquiry that has seen 13 people charged with federal crimes.
And yesterday, Automotive News reported that, in fact, arson was still being investigated as a possible cause of the fire.
“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.”
The UAW gave Automotive News the following statement:
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.”
What’s changed between now and July? Well, not much, really. Ruling out arson just a couple of weeks after the fire was always kind of silly since a proper investigation takes longer than that. My story last week was the first in weeks to cast a somewhat critical eye on the matter, though Detroit reporters have left hints in the past.
Here’s the Detroit News in October:
[UAW President Gary Jones, identified as “UAW Official A”] and Robinson met again in March and talked about whether the government had obtained documents from the UAW and hotels involved in the alleged embezzlement scheme, prosecutors said.
“UAW Official A told (Robinson) that he wished they ‘burned the records,’” prosecutors wrote.
Four months later, on July 13, a fire tore through UAW headquarters in Detroit, damaging one floor. The fire appears to have started in the IT department, according to court records.
Fire officials determined that the blaze started in a storage area with unused electronics and was not suspicious, Detroit Deputy Fire Commissioner David Fornell said Thursday. “We do not think it’s arson.”
Six hours after my post went up last week The Detroit News published another story with news of the subpoenas. And they say blogs don’t matter in our demented world.