Massive NYPD evidence warehouse fire sparked by electrical blowout in wiring leading to exit sign
An “electrical blowout” near an exit sign sparked the massive December Brooklyn blaze that destroyed an NYPD evidence warehouse — as well as scores of DNA samples used in criminal cases, the FDNY revealed Thursday.
It is still not clear how much evidence was lost in the inferno at the Erie Basin Auto Pound on Columbia St. in Red Hook on Dec. 13, officials said.
It was believed from the start the fire was not suspicious and now an exhaustive investigation by FDNY fire marshals has determined it was accidental and sparked by an electric short.
“(The fire was) caused by an electrical blowout in a conduit leading to an exit sign,” the FDNY tweeted.
The thick black smoke from the massive fire could be seen for miles.
The flames spread too quickly for the building’s sprinkler system to extinguish the blaze, with an FDNY spokesman at the time explaining the fire was already “very advanced” when firefighters arrived.
NYPD sources confirmed 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 lawsuits or if detectives wanted to give the samples a “second look” and have them retested with new technology, sources said.
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“The facility is really old and antiquated, including the electrical system,” a police source said in December. “Cold case files got destroyed. Vehicles got destroyed and [police vehicles] involved in line-of-duty deaths.”
The fire could stymie efforts to overturn wrongful convictions, attorney Cary London said in December.
“If evidence was destroyed that relates to clients with pending wrongful conviction cases, 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 law enforcement source said most of the DNA evidence stored in the building was previously tested and “authorities should be able to move forward with those 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 seized e-bikes, dirt bikes, all-terrain vehicles and vehicles held as evidence in criminal investigations, such as cars that victims were shot inside, cops said.
Three firefighters, three EMS members and two civilians suffered minor injuries, authorities said.