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City of Modesto, California News Release

For Immediate Release

Contact: Hugo Patino, 209-495-6205
Release Date: Thursday, March 8, 2012, 12:00:00 AM

Cause of McHenry Mansion Fire Undetermined

Modesto, CAA three month investigation of the December 6, 2011, McHenry Mansion fire has resulted in an official ruling that the cause of the fire is “undetermined.”  For official reporting purposes, there are three reporting categories for fires – undetermined, accidental or arson.  Arson has been ruled out as the forensic analysis of the wood samples eliminated flammable liquids as the cause of the fire.


Modesto Regional Fire Authority investigators evaluated the scene of the fire, which was mostly contained to the entryway of the 128-year-old Mansion.  Witnesses were interviewed, lighting fixtures and holiday decorations were scrutinized as well as other potential sources of ignition.  Wood samples were taken from the entryway and submitted to the Department of Justice Crime Lab for forensic analysis.  The results of the forensic analysis came back this week, and due to the fact that the exact cause of the fire could not be pinpointed, the official cause of the fire is officially recorded as “undetermined.”


“It is unfortunate that the specific cause of the fire was not able to be definitively determined; however, the most important thing is that this treasured building is still standing,” said Modesto Regional Fire Authority Chief Michael Kraus. “I am thankful to the dedicated and professional firefighters who quickly extinguished the fire and took great care of a piece of Modesto’s history that night.”


The most severe damage to the Mansion occurred 10 feet above the floor of the entryway; adjacent to this area were remnants of a hanging, incandescent light fixture and plastic garland decoration, which was on display for the holiday season.  As a result, investigators were unable to rule out the light fixture and/or the decorations as either having started or contributed to the spread of the fire.


While the damage to the exterior entryway of the McHenry Mansion is severe, it is repairable.  The Mansions’ fire sprinkler system along with the quick response from the Modesto Regional Fire Authority are credited for preventing the spread of the fire to the interior of the building which could have caused significantly more damage to this irreplaceable historic Modesto icon.


Repairs to the McHenry Mansion are ongoing and it is anticipated that public tours will begin again on a limited basis in April, with the goal of a grand re-opening in the fall of this year.


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