Major fire investigations can take time to get answers

Crews are still working to clear debris away from the site of a fatal house fire in Taneytown that occurred in the early hours of Friday. Though the fire took approximately one hour to bring under control, the work of investigation will likely continue long after the debris has been cleared away and the scene is quiet.

The Office of the State Fire Marshal is responsible for investigating the origins and causes of fires, arsons and explosions in Maryland. Investigation into a major incident, especially one in which there are fatalities, can take longer than many realize.


Kenny Poole, Frederick County fire marshal said, "Not everything is like it works on TV. You have the ones that go for days, months, years."

Deputy State Fire Marshal Bruce Bouch agreed. "The biggest misconception is the time factor," he said, "as much as we would love to have some advertisements in the middle and have everything done in the hour."

Alongside Friday's fire in Taneytown, two other major fires that have occurred in the area since March also remain under active investigation.

Fire crews and investigators from the Office of the State Fire Marshal were called to the 2200 block of Bear Run Road near Taneytown after a house fire with an explosion was reported early Friday morning. (Dylan Slagle / Carroll County Times)

In the case of Friday's fire, the hoarding conditions of the home are a factor that will complicate the investigation into the fire and explosion that killed two people, according to Bouch. The fire marshal's office is working to determine if the explosion was triggered by the house fire or the blaze was caused by the explosion.

In Carroll, many investigations are conducted by three deputies who are based out of the Maryland State Police Barrack in Westminster.

In cases with large monetary damage over $1 million, or other factors that make investigation more complicated, a resource team consisting of various regional inspectors and a public information officer can be called to provide additional resources. These can include additional personnel, accelerant and bomb-trained K-9s and specialized equipment, like the machinery that was used to move debris after Friday's fire.

In these complicated cases, the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives also routinely responds to assist with an investigation. Bouch said the bureau has its own fire investigation team, and their lab is often used to process evidence.

Occasionally, Bouch said, there are cases where the fire marshal cannot successfully determine an origin and cause for a fire, but "we use every effort and bit of training to avoid that outcome," he said.

Another fatal fire occurred earlier this year in Taneytown, on March 22, in which a 2-year-old died after she was unable to leave the attic of a two-story home. Investigators are no longer working on site at the incident, but the cause of the fire has not been officially determined at this time, Bouch said.

On June 30, a fire broke out in an unoccupied commercial building in Mount Airy. No injuries were reported, but the fire caused a considerable amount of damage to the structure and its contents, according to Bouch.

The Frederick County Office of the Fire Marshal is leading the investigation and Carroll is assisting.

Bouch said the fact that no one was present at the time of the Mount Airy fire makes investigation into the origin of the blaze more difficult. Currently investigators are conducting interviews with possible witnesses and processing related paperwork in order to narrow down the details of the incident.

At this time no charges have been filed in any of the cases. Bouch said if charges are called for, the timeline is largely determined by the justice system. In some cases, charges will be filed against a person right away. In others, the need for charges may be revealed by the investigation some time after the incident, and a warrant will be issued.

Not all cases require weeks of investigation, and Bouch said some are cut and dry. For others, however, a deeper look is required.


"People think that fire eliminates evidence, but that's not the case," he said. "Fire distorts it, but we as fire investigators are trained to look deeper past the norm."