Feb. 20--Bryan Fire Chief Randy McGregor said Tuesday that investigators have determined that the weekend fire that killed two firefighters was accidental and was sparked by a faulty electrical cord running from a fan in the Knights of Columbus Hall.
McGregor said the fire started in the kitchen and that the cord was running from a fan in the dining area to the kitchen.
The Friday night fire at the 68-year-old building claimed the lives of firefighters Eric Wallace, 36, and Greg Pickard, 54. Firefighter Ricky D. Mantey Jr., 30, and probationary firefighter Mitchel Moran, 21, remain in serious condition at a Galveston burn unit.
The fire department had not released much information about the status of the injured, but broke some positive news at a 5 p.m. press conference on Tuesday.
"Today, we went to Galveston to visit our two brothers and today we got to witness them stand up and take some steps down the hallway. This is a tremendous step forward," said McGregor, who was interrupted by cheers and applause.
McGregor, who had delivered many solemn updates since the tragedy, smiled.
"We are very excited today about that," he said. "It is a bit of light that has certainly encouraged us in this dark time."
McGregor declined to elaborate on the injuries the men are battling, and did not go into specifics of his interactions with the Mantey and Moran. He instead described how hospital staff gathered to support and cheer them on.
"They were still a little bit groggy and such, but they had smiles on their faces," McGregor said. "We certainly saw their faces light up when everybody cheered, and they got to see family members right up close and such."
The men are able to walk, talk and hug their families, he said. A spokeswoman for the The University of Texas Medical Branch Blocker Burn Unit said Tuesday that the men remained in serious condition.
Bryan Fire Marshal Marc McFeron answered questions at the press conference about the investigation. He said the fan that sparked the fire was plugged into a kitchen socket and ran into the bingo hall/dining area of the hall at 1500 Groesbeck. Knights of Columbus members previously said that the last people to enter the building before the fire had prepped the area for a Quinceanera.
The cord that sparked the fire was approximately 10 feet in length, McFeron said. Investigators are unsure if the fan was plugged in at the time of the fire or if the cord was damaged or frayed. He said the fire started when the cord ignited items in the kitchen, one of which was a first aid kit.
McFeron noted that the preliminary findings of the investigation are unofficial.
The findings of the investigation, headed by the State Fire Marshal's Office, could take six months to one year to become public.
A tribute for the fallen lieutenants will begin at 8 a.m. Wednesday with a walking procession to Central Baptist Church. The public memorial service will begin at 10 a.m. Firefighters from around the nation, and as far away as Canada, are planning to journey to College Station to pay tribute to the fallen public servants.
Brazos County Sheriff Chris Kirk will be one of the many in attendance Wednesday. Kirk spoke in August during a tribute to Constable Brian Bachmann, who was killed in the line of duty in August. The Bryan-College Station community, Kirk said, has experienced unimaginable losses in a short time period. He said the memorial process helps heal wounds for the families and fellow firefighters.
The sentiment was shared by Bryan Assistant Chief Cory Matthews. He plans for the memorial to be a celebration of Pickard's and Wallace's lives -- an upbeat event rather than a somber one.
"You want the firefighters to get the closure -- the funeral is a little different feel, this is all about firefighter tradition," Matthews said.
The outpouring of support from the community and other fire departments has been overwhelming, he said.