Officials Complete Investigation Of Fort Scott, Kansas Fire

FORT SCOTT, Kan. (AP) -- State and federal officials announced Thursday that they were unable to determine the cause of the fire that caused between $10 million and $15 million in damage to the city's historic downtown.

Based on interviews with witnesses and first responders, authorities suspect the fire started in the basement of The Other Bar.

A water heater in the bar's basement received extra scrutiny, said Rose Rozmiarek, the chief of the investigation division for the state fire marshal's office. ``But,'' she said, ``we are pretty confident it wasn't that water heater. Nothing was jumping out as the actual cause.''

The fire that started last Friday left nine to 10 buildings with structural damage. An estimated 10 others were thought to have varying degrees of smoke and water damage, said City Manager Richard Niendstedt.

During a news conference, investigators said they have no evidence that the fire was intentionally set.

``However, due to the intense damage that occurred as a result of this fire, it will be classified as undetermined,'' said John Williams, who supervised the National Response Team that investigated the Fort Scott fire for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

The completion of the investigation Wednesday afternoon returns control of the fire scene to the city, which received verbal notification Thursday that it will receive a $400,000 cleanup grant from the Kansas Department of Commerce and Housing.

Niendstedt said the city is still completing paperwork for the grant as well as pursuing other grants.

``We are going to the ends of the earth and talking to every federal and state agency that we think has funds available for our rebuilding,'' he said.

Niendstedt said he was eager to begin razing the worst of the buildings. But the city, except in cases where unstable buildings are causing an immediate threat, won't be able to begin demolition until insurance investigators complete their investigations. They were only given complete access to the scene Wednesday.

In the meantime, he said, a historic structural engineers was expected to arrive Friday and study whether parts of buildings that must be demolished could be incorporated into new construction.

``At the same time we know we have to take stuff down, we are looking into every avenue to reuse what we can,'' he said.