Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2014

Cause of $2M fire still unknown; 1 man accused of impersonating firefighter

By Pat Reavy and Whitney Evans, Deseret News

Published: Mon, Feb. 10 9:00 a.m. MST

 Crews work on the scene Monday morning after a four-alarm fire broke out Sunday night at the site of a future apartment complex at 500 South and 500 East.

Crews work on the scene Monday morning after a four-alarm fire broke out Sunday night at the site of a future apartment complex at 500 South and 500 East.

(Matt Gade, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — A man who police say impersonated a firefighter at the scene of Sunday's massive four-alarm inferno was arrested. But investigators say he is not suspected of starting the blaze that caused as much as $2 million in damage.

Joshua Warren Murray, 27, was arrested for investigation of impersonating an officer.

"He was on scene. He was in a restricted area. He was dressed in a way to imitate being a member of the fire department. And he told a law enforcement officer that he was affiliated with the fire department when he was not. He's done this at a few other fires during the past six months," Salt Lake fire spokesman Jasen Asay said.

When police initially questioned Murray as to what he was doing, he replied: "'I am with them,' referring and pointing directly to the fire crew that was on scene," a Salt Lake County Jail report states.

Police say he was carrying an identification card "that was used with intent to deceive officers," a BB gun, a "physical restraining device," and was wearing emergency response clothing, the report states.

Murray was not wearing real fire gear, Asay said, but was wearing a bright jacket that could make him appear to be a fire official. Although investigators don't believe Murray started the fire at the 64,000-square-foot, 61-unit building at 550 E. 500 South, they were still investigating Monday what his alleged fascination is with showing up to fires.

"He didn't try to grab a hose or a ladder. Last night he was trying to direct people, direct citizens. It looked like he was trying to inform them and tell them what to do," Asay said. "We're just concerned and trying to find out why he has gone into restricted areas."

As for the origin of the fire, Asay said investigators weren't ready Monday to declare it an arson fire. Crews still had to douse several hot spots and were waiting for city housing and building inspectors to declare the area safe to enter.

Monday afternoon, a construction crew brought a wrecking ball to the site to knock down the top two floors of the burnt strcture. After that, Asay said investigators would be able to go in.

There was no power or heat in the wood-framed structure when the fire started. And there was no construction happening on Sunday, Asay said. The lot where the structure is being built is fenced off and locked when construction crews aren't around, he said.

Salt Lake fire crews actually did a routine walk-through of the building on Saturday to make sure safety codes were being followed, according to Asay.

"We did not see anything out of the ordinary," he said. "There were no red flags or hazards of any kind."

Damage from the fire was estimated at between $1.5 million and $2 million, Asay said. But that could increase. Investigators had not yet been able to reach an underground parking structure to examine it for possible damage.

"This was a very intense fire," Asay said, noting that he could feel the blaze's heat from where he parked a block away Sunday night.

A representative from the construction company, U.S. Development, told fire officials that no one was in the building when the fire started. Construction crews brought a crane to the scene Monday to help dismantle another crane that was severely damaged by the fire.

The fire was reported about 6 p.m. Sunday. It was upgraded to a four-alarm fire shortly before 6:30 p.m., bringing about 60 firefighters to the scene.

Crews found heavy smoke and flames coming from the building and went inside to battle the blaze. They soon exited because of concerns that the building could collapse.

Smoke could be seen across the valley, and some witnessed embers shooting out from the building. Nearby homes and a Smith's Marketplace across the street to the north were evacuated about 6:45 p.m. Crews were worried about embers from the fire landing on nearby rooftops, especially with wind gusts blowing to the north.

Crews got on top of the Smith's roof and sprayed it down with water so it would not ignite.

The crane became a major cause of concern for firefighters, who worked to prevent the equipment from crashing down from the intense heat and possibly hurting bystanders.

"We worried that if it fell down, we did not know which direction it would fall," Asay said.

Court records show Murray has several misdemeanor court convictions. In May of 2013 he was convicted in West Jordan Justice Court of theft of services and trespassing. He was convicted of similar charges in April of 2012. Murray was convicted of shoplifting in 2010. In 2009, he pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of attempted violation of a protective order.

Contributing: Haley Smith

Email: preavy@deseretnews.com; wevans@deseretnews.com

Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam

Related Stories
1. Peeves
Portland, OR,
Feb. 10, 2014

I wonder what this guy wants to be when he grows up.