Insurance companies excavate Judd Foundation Architecture Office, seeking cause of fire

MARFA — Investigators sifted through the soot and debris within the Judd Foundation’s Architecture Office late last week, seeking clues to the still-unknown cause of the fire that consumed the under-construction building this June.

The investigation is being led by Judd Foundation’s insurance company The Hanover Insurance Group, and other companies and contractors involved in the Architecture Office’s historic restoration also have their insurance companies on site, monitoring the excavation on their behalf.

In the wake of the fire, work was done to stabilize the building’s exterior. Last Thursday, work began with careful remediation to support the investigation to determine the fire’s cause. “We do not know the cause or origin” of the fire, said a spokesperson for Judd Foundation.

The scene on Highland Avenue was crowded on Thursday, as workers from Cotton Global Disaster Solutions, a water damage and fire damage mitigation company based out of Katy, unloaded the contents of the building, pulling out charred two by fours, uninstalling scorched HVAC equipment and shoveling piles of soot into heavy duty black garbage bags. All of the debris will be preserved at storage facilities while the investigation continues.

Representatives for the general contractors, the alarm company, the electricians, the plumber and more were on site Thursday to witness the remediation, according to a Judd Foundation spokesperson.

Marfa firefighters and police who had been on scene in response to the June fire also provided statements to the investigators, who are seeking answers to how the fire could have started, where it started and how it progressed.

“There’s a suspected origin point,” said Marfa Fire Chief Gary Mitschke on Thursday. “Based on what I saw, I know where I think the origin of the fire is. We’re finalizing that determination and then determining what the ignition source was.”

“It’s progress. There’s no guarantees we’ll know exactly what happened. I’m looking to them for a final report, and hopefully to understand what might’ve happened here.”

An investigator on the scene who asked not to be identified because of confidentiality agreements said, “Once you’ve got the origin, then you’ll look into it as to what kinds of different sources of heat energy are present, if any. And then you collect evidence, and then we go to the laboratory after that.”

In searching for an origin, the investigator said they will check all electrical systems, mechanical systems, any tool’s battery pack being charged, chemicals present, leakage and “anything along those lines.” He said it’s typical to explore “what kind of chemicals were involved, are they stored there, are they in the origin, and can they react with one another?” The investigator also remarked that the fire appears to be typical. 

Once the origin and cause have been determined, the final question to be solved is where does the fault lie? Only then can the various insurance companies begin dealing with the financial ramifications of the fire, the subsequent remediation, and the eventual restoration of the Architecture Office.

For now, those answers are out of reach. The Judd Foundation said work is likely to last for two to four weeks, pending the arrival of additional materials and crew this week as remediation continues.