By LeAnn R. Ralph
GLENWOOD CITY — A report from the state fire marshal’s office lists the cause of the January 2014 fire that destroyed the new construction at the Glenhaven nursing home as “undetermined.”
The Tribune Press Reporter obtained a copy of the state fire marshal’s report through an open records request.
Special Agent Adam Frederick of the Wisconsin Department of Justice’s arson bureau conducted the investigation.
While Frederick was unable to determine the cause of the fire on January 14, 2014, the report states that the fire started in the attic area of the lounge between Buildings B and C.
Permanent electrical service was not live at the time of the fire, but temporary electrical service for the addition was supplied from the existing Glenhaven. An electrical distribution panel was mounted to the exterior wall of Glenhaven that led to Building B, and a temporary distribution panel was mounted between Buildings B and C. Another temporary distribution panel was mounted to supply Buildings D and E, although from the report, the location of the panel for D and E is not clear.
During construction, separate natural gas lines were used on the exterior to supply the indirect flame heater for Building D and a line leading to a boiler on the exterior between Buildings B and C.
At the time of the fire, construction on Building B was identified as being complete, except for flooring and casing, and construction on Building C was nearly complete, although somewhat behind schedule compared to Building B. Building D was ready to be dry walled, while Building E was in the earliest stages of interior finishing.
Building D was being heated for drywall installation with an external indirect flame heater located on the exterior of the building and vented into a window opening.
A review of the surveillance video from the construction trailer on site revealed that the lights that were on in the basement of the structure turned off at 11:03 p.m. the previous evening.
Lights in the second level of Building C turned off at 11:24 p.m.
Frederick’s report goes on to state, “there was what appeared to be a bright flashing near the ceiling within the second level of the common area between Pod C and B.”
The report does not indicate what time the “bright flashing” appeared on the video.
The report also does not indicate the nature of the bright flashing, whether it was like the lights that had turned off earlier on the video or whether it was different somehow from electrical lights.
Special Agent Frederick examined the fire scene from an aerial ladder fire truck.
When firefighters arrived on scene that morning shortly after 5 a.m., Buildings D and E had already burned to the ground.
The report notes that while Buildings D and E sustained “the greatest mass loss,” D and E were in earlier stages of construction and were not finished with drywall and did not have a finished ceiling.
“Observations from the aerial ladder truck identified the common area between Pods B and C to have sustained the greatest damage for the state of construction. This area was identified as a lounge,” Frederick wrote in his report.
The report goes on to note that the ductwork in the Building B and C lounge had sustained the greatest damage and that much of the ductwork in the lounge had collapsed. On the other hand, the ductwork leading from the lounge to Buildings B and C remained intact at ceiling level, according to the report.
The report goes on to say that the roof trusses in this area had the greatest damage and was where the greatest amount of collapse had occurred.
“The roof trusses within the lounge, leading to the common kitchen, for the most part had been consumed,” Frederick wrote.
Statements of six witnesses were included in Frederick’s report.
Ben DeGross told investigators he had arrived for work between 3:20 a.m. and 3:30 a.m., parked in front of the main entrance of Glenhaven and punched in, and then drove to the north side of the building to the maintenance garage, got out the equipment and began clearing snow at the front entrance of the building.
DeGross finished at the front of the building around 4:20 a.m. He continued clearing snow at Havenwood to the east of the main building. After a while, DeGross saw a van pull into the front lot at Glenhaven. He later realized the van had been driven by Samantha Kottke.
After the van had parked, DeGross drove back to the maintenance garage behind Glenhaven, and as he was backing up to the garage, looked to the west and saw fire in the new addition.
When DeGross saw the fire, he also saw Samantha Kottke exit the rear entrance on the north side of the building.
DeGross said he walked west along the driveway behind the building and saw fire burning through the roof of the new construction on the southwest end of the building identified as Building D.
DeGross also saw fire burning along the entire length of the ridge vent on the roof of Buildings B and C. He described the ridge vent as being above the common area where Buildings B and C joined.
After confirming with Samantha Kottke that 911 had been called, DeGross exited the front of the existing Glenhaven building and found that a sheriff’s deputy was arriving, according to the report.
Kimberley Schlegel, an LPN employed at Glenhaven, told investigators that Samantha Kottke arrived for work at 5 a.m. that morning and had walked into the facility and said the new addition building was on fire.
Schlegel walked down the west corridor of Glenhaven and approached the door that separated the existing building with the new addition that was being built. As she reached the end of the corridor, she looked into a resident’s room and through partially open window blinds, saw a glow to the west.
At the end of the corridor, Schlegel looked through a window in the door and saw that it was “hazy” in the new building. Schlegel opened the window and smelled smoke in the new addition.
Schlegel told investigators she had not smelled smoke previously in the existing Glenhaven.
Schlegel turned and walked back along the corridor and then exited out the north door of the existing Glenhaven building.
Using a site plan drawing, Schlegel confirmed she was looking at Building D and said she saw a thin line of fire along the entire length of the roof.
Schlegel returned to Glenhaven and began evacuating residents in the west wing of the building, the report states.
Firefighter David Caress told investigators that he was part of the first crew to arrive at Glenhaven.
As Caress drove down Maple Street and Sixth Street, he looked toward the nursing home and saw large amounts of flames coming from the roofline of the new addition.
Caress parked the fire engine near the main entrance of the new addition and noticed the entire roofline between Buildings B and C were on fire.
After walking around the west perimeter of the building, Caress said he noticed Buildings D and E had collapsed due to fire.
A field technician with WE Energies, Ty Tulip told investigators he had been dispatched to Glenhaven to terminate natural gas service to the new addition.
Tulip said he had terminated the service from Oak Street and advised that he had tested the ambient air near the service meter at the corner of Building C and found no traces of natural gas venting.
Samantha Kottke was identified as the first witness to have discovered the fire in the new addition.
Kottke told investigators she was scheduled to work at 5 a.m. and as she was driving on Sixth Street, toward the nursing home, she saw a thin line of flames extending from the top of the roof behind Building B.
When Kottke came into the main entrance at Glenhaven, she told Kimberly Schlegel she thought the new addition was on fire and to call 911.
Kottke and Schlegel ran through the west wing to a double hung window with a view of the new addition. They opened the window, saw black smoke but no flames, and then they ran to the north entrance of the existing Glenhaven to see if they could determine the location of the fire.
Kottke told investigators that as she looked from the north entrance toward the new addition, she saw flames coming from the roof near the roof vents above the kitchen area between Building B and C. She also saw flames coming out of the roof on the south end of Building D.
Kottke watched the fire progress, and the flames eventually began to extend from the north end of the roof of Building D.
Bunkelman and Pederson
James Bunkelman and Robert Pederson, the project manager and superintendent of Royal Construction, explained the layout of the addition to Glenhaven for investigators.
The existing Glenhaven was identified as Building A.
The first new pod that extended from the existing building was Building B, built in a northeast to southwest direction. A common area attached Building B to Building C.
Building C was built in a similar direction.
Building B and C were the only sections of the addition that had two levels, they said.
In the second story of Building C, a common hallway attached Building C to Building D, and Building D was built behind Building C located to the northeast.
A common hallway attached Building D to Building E, located to the northwest of Building D. D and E were connected and built similar to C and B.
“Based on the information obtained from witnesses, building construction methods and an examination of the fire scene, Special Agent Frederick concluded that the fire originated in the attic space above the lounge area of the newly constructed addition,” the report states.
“Based on all information currently available, Special Agent Frederick concluded that the cause of the fire shall be classified as undetermined. It is probable to conclude that the fire incident occurred in the area of the attic space within the lounge.”
Frederick concludes his report by saying that based on all individual information, he recommends this case file be closed.
The file is listed as being closed on April 15, 2014.