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Courthouse blaze was accidental, fire marshal says

Posted March 30, 2010

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— Fire authorities now know what caused a blaze that destroyed Chatham County's historic courthouse last Thursday. What's still unclear, however, is the century-old fixture's future.

Worker accidentally set courthouse blaze Worker accidentally set courthouse blaze

Fire Marshal Thomas Bender said Tuesday that a worker using a soldering iron to repair gutters on the building's exterior accidentally started the fire, which started in the soffit area of the roof and quickly spread to the clock tower and east side of the roof.

Bender said no charges are expected.

“The wind and the old heart pine timbers provided highly flammable fuel which contributed significantly to the intensity of the fire in the building,” he said.

Workers with a roofing subcontractor tried to extinguish the fire but were unsuccessful, said Todd Snyder, vice president of Progressive Contracting Co., which had been restoring the building. He declined to name the subcontractor.

The State Bureau of Investigation will release an official report within the next few weeks, Bender said.

Meanwhile, the county's Board of Commissioners will meet Wednesday to discuss relocating courthouse workers and the future of the courthouse, which was built in 1881.

The county already had plans to start building a new justice center in a few months.

“We still do not have an estimate of the potential rebuilding cost until we know for sure what parts of the existing courthouse can be saved,” Chairwoman Sally Kost said.

Insurance companies are conducting multiple investigations on the fire, which has stalled the cleanup process and reports from engineers to determine if the building can be saved.

"Everything is sort of standing still here. We'd like to make progress," County Manager Charlie Horne said. "Progress at its best is going to be incremental."

Meanwhile, weekly sessions of Superior Court in Chatham County will continue to be at the District Court building across the street, Judge Allen Baddour said Monday. These will include sessions to hear motions and pleas for cases.

“However, it is too early to know when Superior Court can resume jury trials. We are hard at work with the Administrative Office of the Courts and Chatham County officials to resume these as soon as possible,” Baddour said.


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  • rallytowne2 Mar 31, 2010

    whoops. a single action of one has changed history. wait..that is history defined! Great job by the responding units. They did all they could

  • harrington473 Mar 31, 2010

    First I would like to say my hats are off to the Pittsboro Fire Dept and to Chief Griffin for doing a great job and to the other Fire Dept who asst with the Fire. These are the most deciated bunch of guys I have ever met, I have work closely with each of them on Structure fires, Wrecks,and First Responders calls they train very hard and very good at there job.For those of you that are talking Junk about the Fire Dept must be Idiots or do not have any training in the fire service, While you where home eating supper and watching TV and with your family these guys are working there A_s off.If you feel you know so much why where you not there helping I am sure you slept in your bed that night, well they Didn't they where working for several nights they had no sleep. Of all things why would you want to talk Junk about the Fire Dept if I where you I wouldn't because the next home they may save may be Yours.

  • goodolboyz84 Mar 31, 2010

    For any type of structure on fire, the collapse zone is 1.5 times the height of structure. With the scaffolding being made of aluminum,who would want to be on that in a fire. Or better, would you put your mother. father or child on that scaffolding in the fire. Doubt it..

    Before you start pointing fingers. Verify your data, Its only a few more keystrokes. Even better, call the Fire Department, the Construction Company, Chatham County . Its so easy to hide behind a keyboard..

  • liskm Mar 30, 2010

    I am confident that PBO fire department did all they could do, as quickly as they could as a volunteer fire department and with the equipment they had to operate with. This fire required a large number of surrounding units with equipment they didn't have to assist and all MILES from the fire location. They ALL worked hard to deal with a difficult situation, for which I thank all of them. It appears they may have saved the shell of the building to be able to reconstruct a use for a much loved structure. The museum part was damaged but not destroyed.
    Again, I am just going to say how thankful I am that the various fire departments pull together in that time of need. STOP the sniping!

  • scottb Mar 30, 2010

    Spirit Warrior woman AKA Rose Redmond from Angier. Who exactly reported the worker called 911 then 15 minutes later the alarms went off then 15 minutes after that the Fire Department was dispatched? The time elapsed from the first 911 call until the fire department was dispatched was 1 minute and from dispatch to the first truck on scene was 1 minute. 2 minutes total, not 30 as you would have some to believe. At the time of the first truck arriving the fire was showing from several portions of the roof. The “base” of the fire was not in question at that point, where the fire had spread to was.

  • scottb Mar 30, 2010

    Spanky27312 the scaffolding around the building is constructed of Aluminum. Surly you can comprehend at some point how fire weakens Aluminum. If not Google it because I do not have time to explain.
    Wildcat as far as your Siler City comment goes, nearly one fourth of the paid staff in Pittsboro is from Siler City including the Chief and a Captain. The surrounding help that came is part of a mutual aid agreement with other departments which helps EVERY department with large or commercial structures.
    When any one of you wants to criticize what WE did on the fire ground put on a set of wet turnout gear and walk a 24 hour shift and see what the real world is like in firefighting. Otherwise pick up the phone and call 919-542-4101 and they will be glad to answer any concerns you have.

  • mdbrown1021 Mar 30, 2010

    How many fires is that in the past couple of years due to someone welding in windy conditions? Some of these have even been on the ground level. But them being on the roof with the wind only means it was probably blowing harder that high up.

  • 5-113 FA Retired Mar 30, 2010

    Here we go......... All the subject-matter experts sober enough to type have finally found something to excite their few-working synaptic gaps.

    It all boils down to mnaging risk. Any responsible contractor performing hot work should have a procedure that covers all aspects of fire prevention/protection that includes fire wtch to observe for 30 minutes after all hot work is complete. Obvoiusly, this wasn't a priority for the contractor.

  • fkhaywood Mar 30, 2010

    What surprises me is that most everyone ignores the facts. 1) Does anyone know what type of soldering iron was being used to solder the gutters? Probably a propane torch of some kind or even an older type that burns alcohol. 2) most likely the gutters were copper, which is the only type that you solder! 3) Gutters are mounted on the exterior of the structure, the wood framing of the building is inside the soffits. The ends of the rafters adjacent to the gutter could have caught on fire unbeknownst to the worker!

  • nuncvendetta Mar 30, 2010

    The construction company won't pay for the fire. The insurance company will pay for the construction company's bill for the fire by raising rates on insurance coverage, which the company will then pass on to the contracting party in its bid price, which party will pass this cost on to consumers (if a private entity) or taxpayers (if government). It all comes back to bite the small guy.