Bethlehem Steel fire ruled 'undetermined'

UPDATE: In an earlier version of this story, Buffalo Fire told 2 On Your Side that the fire began in Alliance Innovative Manufacturing. However, Buffalo Fire has clarified which company the fire started in -- saying the fire broke out in Industrial Material Recycling.   This story has been updated to reflect the updated information.

LACKAWANNA, NY — There is new information about that massive fire at the former Bethlehem Steel site that broke out nearly a year ago.

The fire caused millions of dollars in damage, tested first responders from multiple agencies, and put lives at risk.

We have more clarity about what may have caused the fire to happen.

2 On Your Side's Jeff Preval reviewed the Buffalo Fire Department incident report on Thursday after filing a Freedom of Information request. That incident report, which was officially approved Wednesday, rules that the fire is "undetermined," and it raises a lot of questions.

"This fire is huge," said a dispatcher when the flames broke out last year at the former Bethlehem Steel site.

The plume of smoke could be seen miles away.

"The base the steel and the brick walls are buckling because of the amount of heat," said Lackawanna mayor Geoff Szymanski at the time.

Dozens of fire departments were on scene and there were big health concerns, not just for firefighters, but also for residents of Bethlehem Park, the neighborhood, right next to the plant.

People there breathed in smoke and the smell of plastic for days. Traffic on Route 5 was shutdown.

For months, Buffalo Fire has been investigating the cause of the fire — speaking to witnesses and analyzing evidence. Investigators allowed us to inspect their incident report — which says the fire is "undetermined" ruling out natural, accidental or incendiary causes.

The report says the fire started in one of the businesses that rents space at the site, and a supervisor for that company, heard popping sounds. When workers went to see what was going on, they saw cardboard boxes filled with plastic caps on fire — the boxes were stacked nine feet high surrounded by garbage cans. Workers tried to put out the fire with extinguishers.

Initially, Buffalo Fire told 2 On Your Side that the fire began in Alliance Innovative Manufacturing. However, Buffalo Fire has clarified which company the fire started in -- saying the fire broke out in Industrial Material Recycling.   

Buffalo Fire says 15 minutes passed before workers there called 911, and that this gap in time, allowed the fire to get out of control. 

Buffalo Fire says they can't rule out that a light fixture may have fallen and started the fire.

The report says workers long before the fire, from time to time would see broken light fixtures on the floor of the plant. 

And here's another revelation, Lackawanna fire says the last time the property was inspected before the fire was 2014 and that the area where the fire started was empty. And that the owner of the property — Great Lakes Industrial Development — allowed companies to move in there, but never told the city, and never reported that the area would be used for warehousing.

At this point, Lackawanna Fire says the company has not been fined and that the city is monitoring what kind of companies start up here. Boats, cars and RV's all burned causing this inferno to rage for days.

We are still awaiting a response from Great Lakes. It took roughly two weeks for investigators to hand the property back over to the owners.

The fire remains under investigation and Buffalo Fire says it's always possible new information could be learned about the fire.

© 2017 WGRZ-TV


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