Arson ruled out in UAW fire; unclear when union leaders, employees can return

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DETROIT — Detroit Fire Department investigators have ruled out arson as the cause of a July 13 fire that resulted in the shutdown of the UAW’s international headquarters.

Firefighters responded to the blaze on the third floor of the union’s Solidarity House that afternoon. City fire investigators returned to the building last Thursday.

It’s “too early to determine” when employees will return to work at the building, UAW spokesman Brian Rothenberg wrote in an email Monday. The union has just begun formal negotiations with the Detroit 3 on new labor contracts, with the current pacts expiring Sept. 14.

Staff had “been reassigned to temporary locations,” Rothenberg said July 16. “Staff will be working out of regional and other UAW facilities.”

Although arson has been ruled out, the fire’s cause is undetermined, Ted Copley, lieutenant and investigator for the Detroit Fire Department, told Automotive News.

Investigators are awaiting results from lab testing on computers, batteries and wiring from the scene to determine the cause, said Patrick McNulty, chief of fire investigation for the Detroit Fire Department.

The rest of the investigation will be left up to private investigators for insurance purposes, Copley said.

Two firefighters were injured at the scene of the fire, one with a broken wrist and the other suffering from smoke inhalation. Both were treated in the hospital and released, Deputy Fire Commissioner Dave Fornell told Automotive News.

He said the fire caused “a considerable amount of damage” to a storage area on the third floor.

Rothenberg said the union headquarters was “largely empty at the time” of the fire, which took place just days before the UAW held its ceremonial “handshake” events with Detroit 3 executives to launch the formal contract talks.

The fire was in the union’s information technology department and damaged adjacent public relations office space, he confirmed.

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