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What we still don't know about the fire at Barclay Friends

Five days after a massive fire raged through the Barclay Friends nursing facility in West Chester, many questions remain unanswered by fire-safety officials and the parent company, Kendal.

Questions remain about what caused the Barclay Friends nursing facility fire. STEVEN M. FALK / Staff Photographer
Questions remain about what caused the Barclay Friends nursing facility fire. STEVEN M. FALK / Staff PhotographerRead moreSTEVEN M. FALK / Staff Photographer

Five days after a massive fire raged through the Barclay Friends nursing facility in West Chester, leaving four residents presumed dead, many questions about the building and the sprinkler system remain unanswered by officials.

The fire was reported just before 11 p.m. Thursday, and witnesses report it spread rapidly across the roof. The blaze raged for more than 2½ hours before being declared under control at 1:22 a.m. Friday. Twenty-seven people were injured, and scores of elderly and frail residents were displaced.

Among the unanswered questions:

Who died in the fire?

At a news conference Monday, Chester County District Attorney Thomas Hogan would not identify the missing residents or take any questions about the investigation.

Late Tuesday night, however, officials announced the recovery of the remains of two people who perished in the fire. Their identities were not disclosed.

What do the building plans for Barclay Friends show about construction materials, firewalls, or fire-suppression systems?

About noon Friday, the Inquirer and Daily News filed two Right-to-Know requests: one for any recent building permits and the second for copies of building plans. Both groups of records are considered public records that are routinely available.

Recent building permits could indicate if work was done in the days leading up to the fire on electrical, water, or any other building systems.

The Borough of West Chester said Friday it would make the records available but then said it was unable to do so because investigators from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives later took possession of the permits and the original plans and had not returned them.

Was the structure protected by a fire-suppression system with sprinklers in each room?

Officials for Barclay Friends declined to comment.

What type of sprinkler system was installed?

Spokesman Larry Elveru of Kendal Corp., parent company of Barclay Friends, declined to comment in an email, citing the ongoing investigation.

When asked Monday about the sprinkler system, Dave March, public information officer for the West Chester Fire Company, indicated he would check but did not reply to inquiries Tuesday.

Messages left with the Chester County fire marshal were not returned.

What does the ATF say about the sprinkler system or the building permits?

The agency would not answer questions about the sprinkler or what the permits show.

"The ATF National Response Team has possession of the documents because this is an ongoing investigation," an agency spokeswoman said Tuesday by email. "As such, the documents will be provided to you and/or returned as soon as possible. The cause and/or origin of the fire has not been determined."

What questions do fire-safety experts have five days after the fire?

Richard Skinner, a former fire marshal in New Jersey who said he was a consultant involved in the Station nightclub fire in Rhode Island that killed 100 people in 2003, questioned whether the sprinkler system was fully operational.

"If it was fully sprinkled, there is no way that building should have come down like that," Skinner said. He said that the system might not have been able to put out the fire but that it should have kept it from spreading.