An “electrical explosion” near an exit sign sparked the massive December fire in Brooklyn that destroyed an NYPD evidence warehouse as well as dozens of DNA samples used in criminal cases, the police revealed Thursday. FDNY.
It is still unclear how much evidence was lost in the inferno at the Erie Basin Auto Pound on Columbia St. in Red Hook on December 13, authorities said.
From the beginning the fire was not believed to be suspicious and now a thorough investigation by FDNY fire marshals has determined that it was accidental and caused by an electrical short.
“(The fire was) caused by an electrical explosion in a conduit leading to an exit sign,” the FDNY tweeted.
The thick black smoke from the huge fire could be seen for miles away.
The flames spread too quickly for the building’s sprinkler system to extinguish the flames, and an FDNY spokesperson at the time explained that the fire was already “well advanced” when firefighters arrived.
NYPD sources confirmed that the DNA stored in the warehouse involved cases from 2012 and earlier, with some of the evidence stored in 55-gallon drums.
The evidence had already been processed but was being stored in case it was needed again in appeals, wrongful conviction trials or if detectives wanted to give the samples a “second look” and reanalyze them with new technology, the sources said. .
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“The facility is really old and outdated, including the electrical system,” a police source said in December. “Cold case files were destroyed. Vehicles were destroyed and (police vehicles) involved in deaths in the line of duty.”
The fire could hamper efforts to overturn wrongful convictions, attorney Cary London said in December.
“If evidence relating to clients with pending wrongful conviction cases was destroyed, this could be the end of the line,” London said. “The destruction of evidence could be the nail in the coffin for those clients, unfortunately.”
Another police source said that most of the DNA evidence stored in the building was previously analyzed and that “authorities should be able to proceed with such cases even without the physical item.”
Fourteen NYPD employees and six contractors were working in the warehouse when one of the contractors saw smoke coming from a “high shelf,” police said.
The warehouse also contained hundreds of electric bicycles, dirt bikes, ATVs and vehicles seized as evidence in criminal investigations, such as cars in which victims were shot, police said.
Three firefighters, three EMS members and two civilians suffered minor injuries, authorities said.