The question on everybody’s mind as a downtown Lincoln adult novelty store continued to smolder three days after the fire began on Sunday morning: Was it arson?
“I haven’t ruled anything out,” Chief Lincoln Fire Inspector Bill Moody said in an interview Wednesday afternoon. The cause of the blaze – which started in the back of the building — is “very much undetermined,” he said.
While investigators were able to get “some evidence out” of the charred, unstable building, they still need to get into the building to continue the investigation.
He has “very good witnesses” in the firefighters who first responded inside the building, until the second floor “started collapsing” on them.
He called the south side of the building the “area of interest,” but said there’s “tons of debris on it now” because the roof collapsed over it.
However, the building is a safety hazard and engineers don’t want anyone in the building due to the potential for another collapse, which cause structural damage to the building to the west, Moody said.
The city has authorized the building’s demolition perhaps as soon as Friday. The building’s insurance company is flying in a specialty engineer from out of state on Thursday, Moody said, to determine how to take the building down without affecting adjacent buildings.
Once the walls are taken down to a safe level, the investigation can continue – although Moody says the demolition will make the investigation more challenging.
“It’s going to make it a ton more difficult,” he said. “But there’s no other way around it. It does not make my job easier but you sure don’t wanna kill anybody going after a cause. … It has to be done.”
Moody said Lincoln firefighters deserve credit for getting to the fire quickly and preventing more buildings from burning down.
“They really did an outstanding job keeping it to one building,” he said. “Small towns (without professional fire departments) tend to lose town squares, instead of one building.”
There were lots of reasons given Monday for why the city had little choice but to give its firefighters 7 to 10 percent raises — even though all other city employees got far less.
But the unspoken reason for the 4-3 vote — split along party lines — can be traced back to campaign donations. The four Democrats who voted “yes” on the fire union contract received more money from the firefighters’ union than any other entity when they were elected. And the three Republicans who voted “no” got nothing from the fire union. Take a gander:
• Councilwoman Jayne Snyder got $13,500 from the firefighters’ union, plus more than $7,000 from other unions, during her campaign last year.
• Councilman Gene Carroll received $13,500 from the firefighters’ union during his campaign last year, plus another $9,000 from other unions — accounting for nearly half the money he raised.
• Councilman Doug Emery got $5,000 from the firefighters’ union during his 2007 campaign — accounting for about one-third of all the money he raised, plus another $1,000 from other unions.
• Councilman Jonathan Cook (who tends not to raise much money for his campaigns) got $5,000 from the firefighters’ union during his 2007 campaign — plus another $500 from one other union.
The remaining three Republicans on the council received no donations from the firefighters’ union in their last campaigns.
When the firefighters’ union is responsible for putting up half the money for your campaign in some cases, do you think those candidates don’t feel somewhat beholden to the union at a time like this? Emery and Cook are up for re-election in the spring — do you think they want to risk losing the union’s support?
The legislation now goes to the desk of Mayor Chris Beutler — whose own campaign received $10,000 from the Lincoln firefighters’ union, and another $10,000 from a state firefighters’ union.