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Buffalo Fire Department commissioner says cause of deadly fire is still under investigation

Emyle Watkins

Buffalo Fire Department Commissioner William Renaldo said Thursday he doesn’t yet know the cause of the four-alarm fire that killed 37-year-old firefighter Jason Arno Wednesday morning in downtown Buffalo.

“We’re way too early in the investigation, but as I said, we have a number of agencies looking into it: our own fire investigation unit, state fire, and now we have the ATF [Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms] on board as well," he told reporters at a press conference. "The investigation is ongoing."

So far, it’s believed the fire may have started when contractors were working on the exterior brick and mortar with blow torches.

Renaldo said when firefighters first entered the burning building they had a clear path but conditions began to deteriorate rapidly soon after.

“[The firefighters] did introduce oxygen when they entered the building and a backdraft is a very rare occurrence. It's very rare, if you see firefighters on the roof ventilating a regular house fire, that's the purpose of it to ventilate the superheated gasses and smoke out of the building so that doesn’t occur,” he said.

A backdraft occurs when oxygen is introduced rapidly into a heated spot that has little to no oxygen in that space.

Video online showed the building collapsing and an explosion while firefighters battled the blaze, knocking several of them to the ground.

Renaldo said it was likely the explosion and building collapse happened simultaneously though he couldn’t say for sure.

Arno placed a mayday call while inside the building and crews then began to evacuate.

“Arno was inside and he was covered with a certain amount of debris when he was retrieved,” Renaldo said.

Renaldo said the fire department’s focus is of Arno’s family and making sure all their needs are met.

“We’re wrapping our arms around them the way Buffalo Fire Department does, and are used to doing," he said. "We’re going to make sure they are taken care of going forward."

Renaldo said Engine 2 which Arno belonged to is out of service for the time being and the mental health of his colleagues is paramount.

“We’ve had a number of serious incidents leading up to this, which is the most tragic incident obviously, but we’ve had a number of incidents toward the last year leading to the this year and we’ve had people off for one tour to two tour, two to three weeks, four to six weeks," he said.

"Whatever it takes to make our folks feel comfortable to come back and feel mentally healthy and they are trained and ready to come back,” he added.

Renaldo said plans for Arno’s funeral service may be announced next week.

Arno was a three-year veteran of the fire department, recently married and had a three-year-old daughter.