At the end of last week, an investigation into the devastating Whiskey Row Fire that took three hours and 80 firefighters to put out revealed that the fire was caused by construction crews using flammable equipment to cut pipes in the building.
Major Henry Ott, spokesperson for the Louisville Division of Fire, said the fire is being ruled an accident. Contractors working inside the building an hour before the fire was reported were using an acetylene torch and grinders to cut sprinkler pipes and conduit. A sort of molten material called slag drips from such cutting torches and fell to the ground where it is believed to have smoldered and caught fire. Grinders also spray hot sparks that could have ignited old wood in the building. The fire is believed to have started in the basement.
“We believe that, in that cutting operation, either slag dropped down and smoldered in the old wood and then that’s what started burning,” Ott told WDRB. “We believe that the cause of the fire is going to be combustibles ignited during a cutting operation.” He added that workers were unaware of the smoldering materials when they left the buildings.
Meanwhile, findings from an investigation of the buildings’ condition are expected to be released this week. According to the Courier-Journal, Ron Carmicle, a Nashville-based structural engineer who helped with the initial stabilization of the buildings, made limited progress last week on the site, looking in from a lift. A second structural engineer from Boston who also worked on the initial stabilization will be on site this week for a more thorough look at the buildings’ condition. Firefighters had been using a robot to peer inside the structure and deployed a drone to help combat the blaze.
A team collectively called Main Street Revitalization, led by Brown-Forman, Craig Greenberg, and Valle Jones, had been renovating three consecutive buildings at 111–115 West Main Street into the so-called One Eleven Whiskey Row, a mix of retail, restaurant, residences, and office uses.
A separate project next door would turn space behind two facades at 117–119 West Main Street into a bourbon distillery for Brown-Forman’s Old Forester brand. The company said damage to those facades was minimal and the project would move forward later this summer.
Developers last week said they would continue with the project, but are awaiting further reports to determine how to proceed and what new stabilization work must be done. “The challenge is probably greater now [after the fire],” Carmicle told the Courier-Journal.
“[The Whiskey Row Fire] will not stop our group’s efforts to preserve and restore this historic block,” Greenberg said in a statement last week.