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Investigation Points To Contributing Factors To Costly Fire At Flight 93 National Memorial

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Multiple factors contributed to the disastrous fire that swept administrative buildings at Flight 93 National Memorial in October 2014/NPS

A number of factors, ranging from an improperly enforced smoking policy to an insufficient structural fire management plan, contributed to a costly fire at Flight 93 National Memorial that destroyed thousands of valuable items, including personal items recovered from the crash scene, according to an investigation.

No direct cause was pinpointed for the fire that broke out in October 2014 and destroyed three of four buildings at the site, included one used for curatorial storage. 

Among the items lost to the fire were 334 original photographs and 25 recovered items and personal mementos of passengers and crew members of United Airlines Flight 93, the National Park Service staff said at the time. "The lost objects include a boarding pass from United Airlines Flight 93, a parking receipt from Newark International Airport, and various identification cards of passengers, all recovered from the crash site. Approximately 113 small objects and paper items donated by family and friends for the general collection were also lost," it added.

Also lost to the flames was the "Accession Ledger, the legal record of collections ownership." Investigators determined that this ledger was not properly stored in a fire-resistant cabinet.

"These items are irreplaceable and we are devastated by their loss," said Jeff Reinbold, the memorial's superintendent at the time. "Nonetheless, this only strengthens our resolve and commitment to create a memorial that reflects the lives and heroic actions of the 40 passengers and crew members and fully tells the story of Flight 93."

The report into the cause of the fire stated that the "presence of improperly discarded smoking material, landscaping mulch that was too close to the building, and flammable decking material are all thought to have contributed to the intense fire."

In addition, "park staff stored museum collections in buildings that were not designed for collections storage and did not have a fire suppression and protection system," the report said.

"We are thankful to the community and the Families of Flight 93 for their patience and understanding during the course of the investigation," said Memorial Superintendent Stephen M. Clark in a release. "The destruction caused by the fire was tragic. The investigation points out many actions that either have or will be adopted at this park –actions that managers of other national parks across the country will make sure are part of their operations so that a disaster like this is not repeated."

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