Boat Fire Investigators Rebuilding Conception to Find Cause of Deadly Blaze

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The burned hull of the Conception is brought to the surface by a salvage team, Thursday, Sept. 12, 2019, off Santa Cruz Island, California, in the Santa Barbara Channel in Southern California. The vessel burned and sank on Sept. 2, taking the lives of 34 people aboard. Five survived. (Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times via AP)
The burned hull of the Conception is brought to the surface by a salvage team, Thursday, Sept. 12, 2019, off Santa Cruz Island, California, in the Santa Barbara Channel in Southern California. The vessel burned and sank on Sept. 2, taking the lives of 34 people aboard. Five survived. (Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times via AP)

In an effort to determine the cause of the deadliest boat fire in modern California history, authorities are painstakingly rebuilding the burned remains of the Conception and scouring the ocean floor for more evidence.

Nearly a month after the fire that killed 34 people, authorities still have not determined a cause, according to sources familiar with the investigation.

Since the vessel was raised from the seabed two weeks ago and taken to Port Hueneme, investigators led by the National Response Team of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives have begun to reconstruct the boat.

Sources said that much like after a commercial jet crash, investigators are piecing together the remains of the vessel.

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There are multiple investigations into the fire, including a criminal inquiry. The National Transportation Safety Board's report found that the entire crew was asleep before the blaze was discovered and the Conception did not have a roaming watchman, as required by the U.S. Coast Guard for vessel certification.

Those who died were sleeping below deck and were trapped by the flames. Five crew members above deck were able to escape by jumping overboard.

The NTSB's preliminary report said a crew member sleeping in the wheelhouse was awakened by a noise. When he got up to investigate, he saw a fire on the sun deck rising from the salon and alerted the other crew members. They jumped onto the main deck--one man broke his leg in the process--and tried to get into the salon and galley, but the flames kept them back. Overwhelmed by smoke, the crew jumped from the boat.

Preliminary investigations have suggested the fire did not start in the engine room, and there are growing signs the origin was in the galley. On the morning of the fire, one crew member told a rescuer he thought the fire had originated with electronic devices charging in the galley.

As the investigation continues, the U.S. Coast Guard has taken the unprecedented step of recommending that owners of passenger vessels immediately urge crews to "reduce potential fire hazards and consider limiting the unsupervised charging of lithium-ion batteries and extensive use of power strips and extension cords."

This article is written by Richard Winton from The Los Angeles Times and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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