The Ann Arbor police and fire departments are divided over the cause of two suspicious fires that occurred at residences near campus on Saturday morning.
The police department is treating the two fires as arsons, according to its crime statistics report for the week of March 28 to April 3 released yesterday. But fire department officials disagree, saying they have no evidence suggesting the fires were a result of arson, Ann Arbor Fire Marshall Kathleen Chamberlain said in an interview yesterday.
The fires — a blaze in a rental house on State Street that killed one and injured two others and a separate incident in which three cars went up in flames under an apartment building on Church Street — are currently under investigation by both the police and fire departments.
In yesterday’s interview, Chamberlain repeatedly emphasized that though the fires are “suspicious,” at this point, AAFD has no evidence to believe the blazes were caused by arson and therefore AAFD officials can’t stand by the crime report.
According to Chamberlain, the AAFD has the ultimate say as to whether the fires were arsons, while the police are handling the criminal investigation.
In a separate interview last night, an Ann Arbor police sergeant who requested to remain anonymous because they weren’t permitted to speak publicly on the investigation, said the police department already has enough evidence to treat the fires as arsons.
The sergeant said the close proximity in both timing and location of the fires is indicative of arson.
“There were four things that caught on fire in a single night,” the sergeant said. “We’re trying to use a little common sense.”
The police are not even considering the possibility that any of the fires were accidental, according to the sergeant.
“If it had just been one fire, then maybe,” the sergeant said. “But four fires?”
The sergeant also said the police department is treating the fatal blaze at the State Street house as a “homicide-type investigation.”
Chamberlain, however, said that AAFD officials cannot offer an opinion as to the cause of the fires at this point.
“There’s no evidence to make a decision at this time,” Chamberlain said.
The AAFD’s decision will only arrive after a thorough departmental investigation into the causes of the fires, according to Chamberlain.
That investigation started last Saturday when firefighters on the scenes used a trained dog to search for remnants of liquid accelerants that would have suggested arson, Chamberlain said.
According to Chamberlain, the dog found no trace of accelerants.
“The dog did not identify any specific accelerant,” Chamberlain said.
AAFD officials also plan to conduct further tests on evidence from the scenes of the blazes to see if accelerants were used, Chamberlain said. She added that witness accounts of the fires will also play a big part in her department’s investigation.
“We’re trying to use all of our resources,” Chamberlain said.
But according to Chamberlain, the results of AAFD’s investigation won’t be available for a while.
“It’s a huge investigation process,” Chamberlain said. “After that investigation we make a decision.”
According to the AAPD sergeant, the AAFD’s ultimate decision doesn’t affect the police investigation.
The AAFD “can say what they like, but they’re not police investigators,” the sergeant said.
According to the sergeant, the police investigation will continue based on the assumption that the fires were arsons.
“Given what you can surmise from what happened that night I would say any reasonable person could deduce what caused the fires,” the sergeant said. “As far as we’re looking at it, it wasn’t an accident.”