ATF: Manhattan Apartment Fire Was Set On Purpose

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MANHATTAN, Kan. (WIBW) -- After days of investigating, ATF officials say they've found that the massive fire that destroyed a multi-million dollar luxury apartment complex was intentionally set. The construction site is now being called a crime scene.

ATF agents started filtering into Manhattan this past Tuesday to assist the State Fire Marshal's Office and Manhattan Fire Department in finding out what caused the fire that broke out last Sunday morning around 2:30 AM.

On Saturday night, the ATF sent out a press release with the result of the joint investigation, titled "Manhattan Apartment Fire Ruled Incendiary."

It states: "The large apartment complex fire that occurred on Sunday morning, November 6th, at the Strasser Village Apartments, 300 North 4th Street, Manhattan, Kansas, has been ruled an incendiary fire by investigators. Investigators concluded that the fire originated in the northern section of the apartment complex. Sufficient evidence was recovered by investigators to eliminate all known potential accidental causes and determine the fire was intentionally set. The fire caused an estimated $2.7 million in damage to the Strasser Village Apartments. Total damage estimates to nearby businesses remain undetermined at this time but could exceed $2 million.

Investigators from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives' (ATF) National Response Team (NRT), ATF's Kansas City Field Division, the Manhattan Fire Department, the Riley County Police Department and the Kansas State Fire Marshal's Office completed the scene investigation today. The team of investigators took photographs, recovered potential evidence from the scene for analysis by the ATF's National Laboratory and conducted more than 90 interviews throughout the community.

'The work at the crime scene is finished, however, our investigation is not over,' said ATF Special Agent in Charge Michael P. Gleysteen. 'ATF will continue to work together with our state and local partners to investigate this devastating crime and bring those responsible to justice.'

Manhattan Fire Chief Jerry Snyder said, 'This fire resulted in the largest dollar loss in Manhattan history. I'm grateful for the support from the ATF, the Riley County Police Department and the Kansas State Fire Marshal's Office. Without the resources and assistance by these federal and state specialists, we would not have been able to conduct this comprehensive investigation in such a swift manner.'

'It's not often you can bring this many people together from around the United States to work towards a common goal and have the mission completed in such a short time frame. Bringing in many people with years of experience and professionalism, but who lack ego, is how you get a job like this done. It has been a learning experience for me and I've been impressed with the professionalism of all the agencies involved,' said Lieutenant Michael Quintanar, Investigations Division, Riley County Police Department.

'Our ability to bring the perpetrators of this crime to justice is greatly increased by receiving information and evidence from the crime as quickly as possible,' said Rose Rozmiarek, Chief of Investigations, Kansas State Fire Marshal's Office. 'The resources from the local, state and federal agencies assisted in this effort and make the investigation more manageable.'

Specific information regarding the fire and investigative efforts will not be released at this time as the criminal investigation continues. Anyone with information about the fire should call the Riley County Police Crime Stoppers at 785-539-7777 or toll free at 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or ATF at 1-888-ATF-FIRE.

ATF's National Response Team, which consists of ATF personnel from across the country, responded to the scene to work alongside state and local investigators. The NRT's specialized resources included a canine team, certified fire investigators, forensic chemist, electrical and fire protection engineers and additional specialists. This NRT activation was the third this fiscal year and 724 since the 1978 inception of the program."

This is only the fifth time the ATF's National Response Team has come to Kansas to investigate a fire since it was formed in the late 1970's.

"The last time that the National Response Team was here was in Lawrence back in October of 2005. That was a criminal investigation there and we did get a conviction out of that one. And the one prior to that was actually in March of 2005 down in Fort Scott where we basically had a city block that burnt down in that incident," Chief Rozmiarek said, speaking to the magnitude of the apartment fire.

Construction on the Strasser Village Apartments was expected to be finished next fall. No injuries have been reported.

When referring to the damage done to nearby businesses, Manhattan Fire Chief Jerry Snyder told members of the media: "The damage is more extensive than what we had anticipated. That is mainly due to roofs that were damaged in the north end- PetCo, Orangeleaf, Showcase Jewelers, Hy-Vee and we also found out yesterday that Wal-Mart has several holes in its roof which is, as the crow flies, over 3000 feet from the Strasser Village."

More than a week after the fire, the brand new Dick’s Sporting Goods adjacent to the fire scene still has signs on its front door Monday (November 14th) saying the business is closed for repairs. Contractors could be seen wheeling out rolls of carpet Monday morning. Chief Snyder says Dick's sustained roof damage and smoke got inside, damaging some of the clothes. As WIBW crews were filming outside of Dick's Monday, a steady stream of customers were arriving, only to be turned away at the door when they saw the signs on the front doors.

A representative for Dick’s could not provide an exact date when the store will reopen.

Eric Marshall, Community Marketing Manager for Dick's Sporting Goods stores in Kansas and Missouri, told 13 News the following:
"The fire in Manhattan was certainly a terrible occurrence for all involved. As far as a timeline, we are still assessing the extent of the damage sustained from the fire on 11/6, which impacted the store. The store will remain closed until we determine it safe to resume operations... I do know they are working diligently to get the store back open, so hopefully it is in the near future."