A local news station reporting on an overnight house fire closed the article with this statement:
“We are working to learn a cause of the fire.”
This prompted a mental video of what that would look like.
Reporter to fire department: “Got a cause of that fire yet?”
Fire department: “Nope. It’s only been an hour since we put the fire out.”
Reporter drinks some coffee, types up another story, and calls back an hour later from the comfort of a climate-controlled office.
“Got anything yet?”
“Nope. Building’s still too unstable to get inside.”
Reporter refills the coffee cup, checks to see what other stations are reporting, does a little more typing, takes a bathroom break. Another hour passes. Then another call to the fire department.
“Well? What’s the status?”
“You’re kidding me, right?”
If you don’t know anything about fire investigation, I can tell you it’s dirty and often difficult work – especially in buildings like this one, which was heavily damaged in the fire. Investigators have to wait until the fire is out and, if necessary, until the building is stabilized and safe to enter. Then it’s digging through ashes and rubble by hand to get to the place where the fire started, working in heat, rain, snow, wind. For large fires, heavy equipment may be called in to remove debris.
All work is done carefully and deliberately to preserve any evidence that remains. Photos and videos are taken throughout the process. Witnesses, building occupants, and the property owner(s) must be interviewed. A structural fire investigation can take a few hours, or several days – or even longer, depending on the size of the fire, the type of building involved, and the extent of the damage. Every detail is documented in a report.
So when a TV station’s reporter says “We are working to learn a cause of the fire,” I have to laugh.
Who’s really doing the work?