Fire investigators don’t know what caused an upholstered chair to catch fire, but have concluded it was the piece of burning living room furniture that set off a blaze in an apartment at 361 Albert St. Nov. 29 that killed seven-year-old Dominik Ambrose David Billy.
The results from the ensuing investigation, conducted by Nanaimo Fire Rescue fire investigators, an independent private fire investigator and electrical safety inspectors last week, were released Friday by the B.C. Coroners Office.
“Three was a recliner chair in the living room – in the area of origin of the fire,” said Capt. Ennis Mond, head of Nanaimo Fire Rescue’s Fire and Loss Prevention Division. “We could not find what started the fire. There was nothing in the area of origin that ignited the materials in the area of origin, so that’s what it is.”
One way fire investigators determine where a fire started is by simply looking at the magnitude of burn damage, which is often most intense at the point where a fire started because it is the area that burns the longest and has the greatest amount of time to do the most damage. Unfortunately in the case of the Albert Street fire the upholstered chair, which was located in the living room of the apartment, was so badly burned that any traces of what might have ignited the chair.
“We did find there was a hard-wired smoke alarm, but the breaker had been shut off – not tripped off, shut off,” Mond said.
The breaker panel for the apartment, which the smoke alarm is wired to, is located in one of the apartment’s master bedroom, which is adjacent to the living room. Mond does not know when the alarm’s circuit breaker was switched off or why.
Mond said he attended the scene on the morning of the fire and talked with witnesses, especially to the police officers who were first on scene. Those interviews, combined with physical evidence and findings of electrical safety inspectors and physical evidence, left no doubt, Mond said, that the fire started in the recliner chair in the living room.
“It is what it is,” Mond said. “It’s an unfortunate incident. It’s a tragedy.”
The most recent fire related death in the Nanaimo area prior to the Albert Street fire occurred in Lantzville in February when David William Birnie, 55, died in a garage fire.
Nanaimo Fire Rescue is reminding residents to test smoke alarms to ensure they are functioning at least twice each year.