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Buffalo Grand Hotel fire was intentionally set, investigators say; owner cites multiple attempts

Buffalo Grand Hotel fire was intentionally set, investigators say; owner cites multiple attempts

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Buffalo Grand fire Harry Stinson (copy)

Harry Stinson, owner of the Buffalo Grand Hotel, talks to members of the media outside his hotel after a three-alarm fire on Thursday, Dec. 30, 2021.

Investigators have ruled Thursday morning's fire at the former Adam's Mark Hotel an arson, the Buffalo Fire Department said Monday.

The determination was made by the department's Fire Investigation Unit and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives, the department said.

Authorities declined to say what led them to conclude the fire was deliberately set, as the investigation remains ongoing.

But hotel owner Harry Stinson, a Canadian developer, said it was clear that it "was not a construction fire or kitchen fire or industrial accident."

"This wasn't somebody who dropped a cigarette," he said. "Nobody is of the opinion this was a prankster or an accident."

The three-alarm blaze in the newly renovated banquet center at the Ramada by Wyndham Buffalo Downtown, which formally changed its name Wednesday from the Buffalo Grand Hotel, caused damage initially estimated at $3 million.

That number could fluctuate significantly, now that Stinson and his team can better evaluate the fire's toll. "The initial assessment was more widespread than we thought," Stinson said. "Now that the smoke has cleared, we're able to see a bit better."

A Buffalo police officer patrolling in the area spotted smoke coming from the hotel and event center a little after 1 a.m. Thursday. Firefighters located the fire in a large ballroom above the hotel's parking ramp.

The fire started either in the ballroom or the kitchen, and investigators know which one but aren't going to release that information publicly at this time, Fire Commissioner William Renaldo said during a news conference Monday afternoon. No event was being held in the banquet facility and the kitchen was not being used for an event at the time of the fire, according to fire officials.

However, Stinson said the primary fire was concentrated in the center section of the third floor event space, between the ballroom and the commercial kitchen, and appeared to start with the multiple rolls of new carpet wrapped in plastic that had been destined for the main ballroom downstairs.

"The carpets were lit on fire," Stinson said late Monday, after a day spent dealing with both investigators and insurance adjusters. "It's hard for us to determine now because it's such a molten mess. There were clearly attempts made to start a fire in various places. They were not all successful."

He said experts had concluded the temperature at one point could have reached 2,000 degrees. "It was very intense in the section it happened," he said.

Even so, he said, the bulk of the damage was caused by smoke and water, rather than flames. Firefighters "just poured massive amounts of water" to douse the blaze, creating a flood down to the main ballroom on the first floor. "You had a lake of black water up there," the developer said.

As a result, he said the damage appears to be cosmetic rather than structural, so repairs will likely entail "lots of carpet replacement and new coats of paint." Even so, that's extra frustrating for Stinson, since the ballrooms and event hallways have already gotten new paint and carpeting as part of his multimillion-dollar renovation.

No hotel rooms were damaged in the blaze, fire officials previously said. There were between 40 and 50 hotel guests, as well as three or four members of the hotel staff, on the premises at the time of the fire, Renaldo said. A firefighter injured in a fall while fighting the blaze remains off-duty with what Renaldo described as a "moderate" injury.

City officials ordered the hotel shut down after the blaze, and it remains closed by choice of the owner, Renaldo said. There's no heat in the building right now, Stinson confirmed.

But he hopes to reopen the facility gradually, starting with the hotel rooms, and expects to be fully functional in time for the spring travel and event season. "It's heartbreaking to see all the stuff that could have been," Stinson said. "But the place will be back up and running, and even better."

The Fire Investigation Unit and the ATF will be conducting joint interviews, including with Stinson and a contractor as the investigation proceeds, Renaldo said. He said Stinson is cooperating with the investigation, and added that investigators currently have developed no "persons of interest" in the case.

Stinson said he has "a number of theories" and "multiple potential motives," but declined to share them publicly. "There's a lot people doing their investigation. There's a pretty high likelihood they'll come up with something," he said. "I would be very surprised if they draw a blank on this."

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