Official Cause of Cafritz Mansion Fire “Undetermined”

Devastating July blaze changing how DC fights fire

After months of investigation, the D.C. Fire Department can't determine the exact cause of the July 29 blaze that destroyed the northwest D.C. mansion owned by Peggy Cooper Cafritz -- and the millions of dollars in artwork inside.

Officials did rule out electrical, mechanical or other malfunctions. They said a plastic bucket of rags soaked in linseed oil and sitting on a back porch could have been a factor but stopped short of saying it had anything to do with the blaze.

"The fire has been classified as undetermined," said D.C. Attorney General Peter Nickles, who joined Mayor Adrian Fenty and fire and water officials at a news conference. 

That's important because the city is trying to play down a blame game that broke out between the fire department and water officials in the wake of the fire. Firefighters said they could not get enough water pressure to fight the Cafritz fire. Water officials said the area on Chain Bridge Road is remote and that firefighters could have linked to other fire hydrants.

The mayor and officials announced several changes to improve working relationships. The two departments have exchanged more current information on the status of fire hydrants and locations in the city. The fire department is now sending pumper trucks -- those that carry some water -- to fires in locations known to be difficult. And Fire Chief Dennis Rubin said a battalion chief designated as the "water supply officer" will be on site of fires with the sole duty of monitoring water issues.

Peggy Cooper Cafritz, who was not at the news conference, later told NBC4 that she was not ready to make any comment about the fire and the response to it.

The Cafritz home was a sprawling mansion at 3030 Chain Bridge Road, the scene of many social and political events over the past 20 years. Today, it remains surrounded by a chain link fence, 90 percent of the structure lying in burned ruins.

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