VIDEO: Investigators seek cause of Northwest Marine fire

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Federal investigators had their first chance Tuesday to delve into the wreckage of a devastating fire last week at sportboat builder Northwest Marine in Ferndale, Wash.

Agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives have taken the lead in the investigation because the agency has the resources and expertise in fiery hazardous materials.

“There are ways to look for the origin, whether there’s spalling on the concrete, or if there’s a clean burn, sometimes you’ll see a full V-shape and it’s really clear,” ATF special agent Brian Bennett told The Bellingham Herald.

Police and agents have interviewed about 40 witnesses and employees.

Agents found that the intensity of the flames destroyed some evidence that could prove crucial, such as wiring and insulation. Several potential accelerants that were scattered throughout the warehouse could complicate the search for a point of origin and a cause, Bennett said.

Otherwise, little about investigators’ findings has been made public. It could take months before a cause is determined. Federal agents expect to wrap up their on-scene work by the end of the week.

Ferndale police and Whatcom County fire officials were overwhelmed in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 fire, in part because of the explosive hazardous materials — such as acetone and methyl ethyl ketone peroxide — that had to be safely removed from the building.

Since Friday, local authorities have been working with more than 40 agents and experts from ATF’s Seattle branch; ATF’s National Response Team; U.S. Customs and Border Protection; and the Army National Guard’s 10th Civil Support Team, which specializes in hazmat responses and chemical weapons of mass destruction. Federal dollars have covered much of the mounting cost of cleanup and investigation.

Northwest Marine employed about 20 people. The business was owned by Ron Wright, his son and his son-in-law — a family with six decades of history building boats. The manufacturer built C-Dory, Osprey, SeaSport, Skagit Orca and TomCat Boats.

Northwest Marine opened shop at the Labounty Drive warehouse three years ago. Workers there built about three boats a month before the fire, the Herald reported.

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