From: Amy Westfeldt, Associated Press
Published August 22, 2007 07:07 AM

Prosecutors Open Criminal Case in Fire at World Trade Center Site

NEW YORK -- Prosecutors in New York opened a criminal investigation into the blaze that killed two firefighters at a ground zero skyscraper as it was slowly being dismantled.


A broken water supply system pumped thousands of gallons into the building's basement, leaving firefighters without enough water to fight the fire that started Saturday on the 17th floor.


"Nobody at this point knows whether that was a contributing factor to the two tragic deaths or not. That's what an investigation is for," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said.


The building still contains multiple floors of asbestos, lead and World Trade Center dust from the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.


The 41-story tower's cleanup and demolition was postponed for four years by lawsuits over who would pay for it, concerns that the dismantling would pollute the neighborhood and the ongoing discovery of victims' remains.


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Manhattan District Attorney Robert M. Morgenthau and State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo said their offices each would investigate the cause of the fire, in which firefighters Joseph Graffagnino and Robert Beddia died of smoke inhalation after their oxygen tanks ran out.


Meanwhile, several agencies sought to deflect blame.


State officials who own the building said the tower was not equipped with a city sprinkler system because environmental regulators had ordered that they not be in the building.


"Every step that we take in this building is overseen by multiple layers of regulation from the federal to the local level," said Errol Cockfield, spokesman for the Lower Manhattan Development Corp., which bought the tower three years ago.


Fire Department and environmental officials did not immediately comment Tuesday. Officials for John Galt Corp., the subcontractor that employs the majority of workers at the building, did not return a message.


The head of the city's fire union said the Fire Department had told the local firehouse over a year ago to stop inspecting the former Deutsche Bank building's standpipe system because of health concerns in the toxic building.


The contractor, responding to charges that firefighters might have walked into a maze of protective sheeting and plywood covering toxic materials, said that senior fire officials were given detailed layouts of each floor at the fire scene.


Bloomberg defended the department's decision to send more than 100 firefighters up into the building to fight the blaze, saying they bravely improvised in a crisis.


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Associated Press writers Sara Kugler, Samantha Gross and Tom Hays contributed to this report.


Source: Associated Press


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