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No cause found for February apartment fire

Some things just can't be explained. And it seems the cause of a fire that displaced residents of the Centennial Apartments for one night is one such thing.

After three weeks of investigation, Farmington fire marshal John Powers says the cause of the Feb. 22 fire is "officially undetermined."

That's not for lack of trying, though. Powers worked with Lakeville fire marshal Brian Carstensen, as well as someone from the state fire marshal's office to rule out causes. The insurance carrier also had an inspector take a look at the scene. None of them could pinpoint a cause.

The fire began in a second-floor end unit around 9:30 a.m. The tenant who had lived in the apartment had moved two weeks prior, but had left some belongings behind. No one had been in the apartment for five days.

Among the belongings left behind were a few lamps. Clothing, cleaning products and a few personal care bottled items were also left. Powers had an electrical engineer come in to the apartment to determine whether the lamps were the cause, or whether the apartment's electrical system may have malfunctioned.

"The electrical items did not cause the fire, the electrical system in the building did not cause the fire, so that leaves us with something else happening at the point of origin," Powers said.

The problem was, all of the discarded items were left in a pile. When the fire started, it burned so hot that most of the containers were melted or otherwise damaged so much that fire investigators could not tell what kind of chemicals were involved.

"It was a small point of origin. Something small happened there. It could have been spontaneous combustion or it could have been incendiary. We just can't pinpoint what there was because the evidence at the scene was unusable," Powers said.

"We do try to come up with a cause, not only for if there was a crime committed, like arson, but to determine who is going to pay for the damages. It also helps us try to tailor our fire prevention efforts based on what the needs of the community are," he added.

Michelle Leonard

Michelle Leonard joined the Woodbury Bulletin staff in November, 2014, after 14 years covering news for the Bulletin's sister publication, the Farmington Rosemount Independent Town Pages.  Michelle earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Communications: News-Editorial from Mankato State University in 1991. She is an active member of the American Legion Auxiliary Clifford Larson Unit 189 of Farmington, and served as the 2014-15 Third District President to the American Legion Auxiliary Department of Minnesota. Michelle is also the volunteer coordinator for the Minnesota Newspaper Museum which is open annually during the Minnesota State Fair. She has earned Minnesota Newspaper Association awards in Investigative Reporting, Local News Coverage, Feature Photography and Column Writing. 

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