Finding cause of downtown Raleigh fire a 'tough investigation'

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Investigators are still searching for the cause of the downtown Raleigh fire.

As federal and state agencies join investigators from the Raleigh fire and police departments to uncover the point of origin for Thursday night's massive downtown fire, the professional association that advocates for North Carolina's firefighters is out of a home because of the damage done.

Water caused extensive damage to the North Carolina State Firefighters' Association's offices on the fourth floor of the Quorum Center when raging flames from the neighboring construction site triggered its sprinkler system.

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Tim Bradley, NCSFA executive director, shared photos with ABC11 showing flooded hallways and soaked desks inside their offices. He was able to get inside the building to remove the servers and other files around midnight, two hours after the fire started at the six-story wood construction site for the Metropolitan Apartments.

READ MORE: The search for answers continues after monstrous downtown Raleigh fire

"It's going to be a tough investigation," said Bradley, who's served as a firefighter in Mebane for 43 years. "You got six floors of char on top of whatever started the fire more than likely."

A source close to the investigation said ATF agents, who've been operating out of a mobile command unit since Saturday, are focused on the second floor of the apartment building for a possible origin of the fire.

Where the fire likely started, on the second floor.

Eyewitness Eric Debrah took a photo of the Metropolitan Apartments at 10:03 p.m. Thursday, showing where the fire seems to have started in a second-floor unit. By 10:11 p.m., flames had spread to every inch of the construction site.

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"They'll try to pinpoint an area and then they'll dig until they determine something- whether it was electrical, improper welding control, hundreds of things can happen on a construction site," Bradley said.

Bradley said it could take investigators two to three more days to determine where the fire started. Since firewalls and sprinklers had not yet been installed in the apartments that were being built just outside their window, he already knows how the flames spread so quickly.

"We've been watching that building go up, and all of us -- when our board members would come in who are firefighters -- all of us have been commenting about if that thing catches on fire while it's unprotected, it's going to be a tremendous fire," he said. "When I got the call, it's like, it was almost like deja vu. It was worse than we had imagined, actually."

Bradley said he thinks it could be a year before the NCSFA is able to move back into its offices in the Quorum Center; he wasn't much more optimistic for residents who own the condos on the top floors, or those renting the nearby Link Apartments which were also heavily damaged.

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