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Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives

News Release

For Immediate Release

Thursday, September 5, 2019
Contact: Ginger Colbrun

ATF National Response Team Activated to Join the Investigation of the Conception Boat Fire

Santa Barbara, Calif. – Members from the National Response Team (NRT) of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) along with ATF special agents from the Los Angeles Field Division were activated today to join the investigation of the fire that occurred on the dive boat Conception killing 34 people Monday. The fire started in the early morning hours of Labor Day while the ship was anchored off Santa Cruz Island.

The partial NRT callout will have experts arriving tomorrow and they will soon be processing the scene to determine the cause and origin of the fire. Special agents and other experts with the NRT were activated to join the investigation at the request of the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office (SBCSO). The NRT members will be working jointly with the ATF Los Angeles Field Division, SBCSO, and the U.S. Coast Guard.

The 75-foot commercial diving boat was based out of Santa Barbara Harbor. The boat was fully engulfed in the fire and sank to the ocean floor at approximately 7:20 a.m., Monday. Five of the 39 passengers onboard were rescued. 

“ATF is committed to working alongside local law enforcement its national partners by bringing its resources to determine the origin and cause of this fire that resulted in the tragic loss of 34 people,” said Special Agent in Charge of ATF Los Angeles Field Division Carlos A. Canino. “ATF will provide whatever is necessary to thoroughly investigate and provide answers to the victims’ families.”

Federal, state and local investigators can request an NRT activation to investigate significant fire, arson and explosion incidents. The NRT provides an immediate and sustained nationwide response capability, deploying within 24 hours of notification, with state-of-the-art equipment and qualified ATF personnel.

The NRT works in conjunction with other investigators to reconstruct the scene, identify the seat of the blast or origin of the fire and determine the cause of an incident. In the case of bombings and arsons, NRT members gather evidence to support criminal prosecutions. A deployed NRT is generally broken down into two components — a group that processes the scene and an investigative-lead element. In the course of the overall investigation, both components coordinate daily to ensure investigative continuity. 

In 1978, ATF developed the NRT to bring its expertise to federal, state and local investigators in meeting the challenges faced at the scenes of significant explosives and arson incidents. The NRT consists of four teams organized geographically to cover the United States.

This is the 14th NRT activation in fiscal year 2019 and the 846st since the inception of the NRT.

The teams are each composed of veteran special agents who have post-blast and fire origin-and-cause expertise; forensic chemists; explosives enforcement officers; fire protection engineers; accelerant detection canines; explosives detection canines; intelligence support, computer forensic support and audit support. Further complementing the teams’ efforts are technical, legal and intelligence advisers. Moreover, a fleet of fully equipped response vehicles strategically located throughout the United States is available to provide logistical support.

Other activations of the NRT in California include the 2018 five-alarm fire in Oakland; the 2018 blaze resulting in the $55 million loss of the Northern California Concord apartment complex; the 2015 fire in San Marco at Holland Motor Homes causing $4 million in damage; the 2014 Da Vinci complex blaze in Los Angeles causing $30 million in damage to the complex and an additional $50 million in damage to the Department of Water and Power building.

For more information, follow ATF on Twitter @LosAngelesATF.

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Los Angeles Field Division