Report: Fire at Rivera’s house cause by defect or improper installation

Last week’s fire at Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera’s house was caused by a material defect or the improper installation of his fireplace, according to a report released by the Charlotte Fire Investigation Task Force.

The fire started in the subfloor of Rivera’s home on Heydon Hall Circle. The floor “was in direct contact with the bottom portion of the fireplace,” the report concludes.

The Charlotte Fire Department released the report on Thursday, citing intense public scrutiny after the Jan. 5 fire in South Charlotte. Fire investigators declined interview requests after they released the report.

Fireplace safety experts and chimney sweeps say the blaze highlights a potential hazard for thousands of modular fireplaces installed over the past 25 years in the United States.

Bob Davis, a Gastonia-based chimney sweep with two decades of experience, said he’s been called after several fires caused by modular fireplaces that have been improperly installed.

“It’s a very specialized trade,” he said. “It requires people that are competent and understand the method of installation but also what happens if you don’t do it correctly. If you assemble this wrong it is every bit as dangerous as an open flame.”

Earlier this week, fire investigators told the Observer that Rivera’s first-floor gas fireplace was built directly onto the wooden subfloor, which deteriorated and caught fire after a decade of use and after being on for an extended period the day before the fire. Investigators also found hairline cracks in the back of the fireplace.

Although firefighters say the Rivera family did nothing wrong, the report indicates they had run their fireplace for about 12 hours the day before the home caught fire. Experts say that extended use likely exacerbated problems with the fireplace.

Charlotte-based Beacon Builders, which constructed Rivera’s home, declined to comment to the Observer.

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