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As the feds help investigate the San Jose Home Depot fire, industry experts share their insights into the process


SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) — In an effort to get a better idea of ​​what fire investigators are doing to find the cause of Saturday’s massive five-alarm fire that set a San Jose Home Depot ablaze, ABC7 News spoke with fire industry experts.

As ATF investigators scoured the site, fire industry experts said bringing in federal agents ultimately means additional resources, more experience and additional tools to help uncover a cause.

“I think it’s just a good, smart decision to call the ATF, the FBI, whoever you want when you have such a large fire,” said retired Menlo Fire District Chief Harold Schapelhouman. Park at ABC7 News.

With decades dedicated to the fire service, Schapelhouman described the blaze as aggressive and unusual for a big-box store.

RELATED: Federal authorities on the ground at SJ Home Depot to help with fire investigation

“Aggressive, angry. I mean, there are a lot of words to describe when you watch that column come out of there, with dark black smoke. But you know, you have a facility that has a lot of vertical storage and racks , and a lot of combustible products, right? Everything from propane cylinders to roofing materials to, you know, adhesives and lumber,” he added.

He foresees that they will have to stabilize the walls, clear the paths and more – necessary preparation for the long investigation ahead.

VIDEO: Pets from nearby business rush to safety during SJ Home Depot fire

“Sometimes it’s a bucket at a time that you pull out of a building like this – of soot and ash and debris – to try and dig down to where you think the point is. origin was and determine the cause,” he continued. “So you know… How long does this all take? As long as it takes.”

“They’ll be very inundated, working 12 hours,” Stan Fernandez said. “Eight to 12 hour shifts.”

Fernandez is an adjunct professor for the Fire Technology program at City College of San Francisco.

Echoing Schapelhouman’s support for the assistance of ATF officers, Fernandez shared, “They understand fire behavior, evidence gathering, forensics, the magnitude of different types of fires.”

“Not just fires, but explosions,” he added. “They come from all specialty denominations – electrical, structural. They do stage processes, interviews and all that.”

Asked about the Home Depot site itself, Fernandez told ABC7 News that the big challenge will be establishing security with the roof gone.

VIDEO: Massive fire tears Home Depot apart in SJ

Inside the store, he described what would be considered in the investigation: “There is the high fire load – any box store will have a high fire load. You look at the distribution of the product, the space of the aisle, where it was in relative until the origin of the fire, how it happened, how it moved.There are things that take into account ventilation, the ventilation factor.

Fernandez explained that the Home Depot fire investigation will certainly extend far beyond the physical scene of the fire.

“They have to gather a lot of data,” he said. “When I say data, I mean it comes from a myriad of areas. It comes from interviewees, eyewitnesses, cameras inside the store, outside the store, passers-by. .they have to interview these people.”

RELATED: Crews continue to extinguish hotspots at San Jose Home Depot after massive fire destroys building

The ATF and San Jose Fire have asked people who were at the Home Depot when the fire broke out to come forward and report.

Witnesses who spoke to ABC7 News said there was no immediate fire alarm and no sign of active sprinklers. Firefighters said it was all under investigation.

“In this case, if in fact that’s true, having no suppression in the sprinkler systems… It’s like, what happened? Was it submerged? Wasn’t it enough? Or was it extinguished? I think those are the things that the firefighters — now with the help of the ATF — are going to come out and present at some point,” Schapelhouman explained.

He added: “You can overwhelm sprinkler systems – and we’ve seen this before in large warehouses – which means the fire gets so big that the capacity of the sprinkler system isn’t there to power it. So it’s a design issue, it’s a fuel load issue, it’s a code issue, and they’re all real factors.

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When the time comes, he said what’s finally identified could lead to widespread improvements.

“It’s not like it’s the only Home Depot in the country, is it?” he added. “No one is trying to replicate that.”

Returning to the addition of ATF agents to the fire investigation, Schapelhouman shared, “I think it’s a masterful move no matter who did it. They were beaten there. has many years in the Santana Row fire for not asking for the ATF so I’m not doing it I know if that was a factor in this case I hope it wasn’t I think it’s just a good smart move.

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