The fire that claimed the Croy Street Exchange building on March 16 is being investigated as arson, state Fire Marshal Knute Sandahl told the Express on Friday morning.
Due to the size and scope of the fire, Sandahl's team is working with federal fire investigators from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms to probe the cause.
“We have a good working relationship with the ATF,” Sandahl said. “We knew we were going to need additional resources, so asked them for assistance.”
That investigation is ongoing, Sandahl said. The team plans to conduct several more “in-depth interviews” with “persons of interest” in the case, he said Friday.
Earlier Friday morning, Hailey Police Chief Steve England told the Express that the incident was being classified as an “incendiary fire.”
“In short terms, that means arson,” Sandahl explained.
The commercial building at the corner of River and Croy streets was vacant when it went up in flames in the early morning of March 16. The building had housed about half a dozen tenants as of last November, according to co-owner Michelle Stennett, a state senator from Ketchum. In a letter dated Dec. 31, tenants were instructed to vacate the property, along with their possessions, by Jan. 30. It was slated to become workforce housing, Stennett previously told the Idaho Mountain Express. Architectural renderings would have been presented to the Hailey Planning and Zoning Commission in a design-review hearing on April 5.
Instead, crews from the Hailey Fire Department, Bellevue Fire Department and Wood River Fire & Rescue were called to the blaze shortly after 5 a.m. on March 16, according to Wood River Fire & Rescue Chief Ron Bateman. First responders were dispatched to the scene at 5:10 a.m. At 5:15 a.m., Hailey Fire Chief Mike Baledge established command of the incident. A minute later, Wood River Engine 611 began fighting the fire at the northwest corner of the building. With the blaze in full swing, though, a portion of the structure had collapsed by 5:20 a.m. By the morning commute that day, it had been charred to rubble.
“This was the type of large fire that typically burns down whole city blocks, if not two or three,” Baledge said Monday. “Nearby buildings included a liquor store, a gas station and a paint store, all with volatile fuels. Were those three to light up, we would have had a much greater tragedy.”
This week, Mayor Martha Burke commended firefighters for putting down the fire before it spread out of the Croy Street Exchange.
“This could have changed the life of Hailey for years to come,” she said. “[Hailey Fire] and the other departments did gallant, noble, brave work getting the fire crushed.”
Though the fire burned fast, the investigation from here will take time, England said.
“It's not a quick process.”
This story was updated March 31 with additional information.