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The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms has confirmed that it is leading a joint investigation of the Suit Corner fire that caused an estimated $1 million in damage to the iconic building at 300 Market Street. The police department and the Fire Marshall are also participating in the task force that is investigating the blaze.

According to Deputy Fire Chief Eric Fleming, an undetermined number of employees were in the building when the fire began. As reported by AxisPhilly on Wednesday, several of those employees were escorted to the ATF to be interviewed even as the two-alarm fire raged. The owner of the business, Gary Ginsberg, was also interviewed by the ATF.

“The ATF will routinely respond to commercial fires, especially ones that have significant property damage,” said ATF Special Agent Steve Bartholemew.

Agents from the federal agency were on the scene of the fire late Thursday morning, and had not yet determined the cause of the blaze by late afternoon. Bartholemew said the federal agency, which has an arson/explosives unit, has experts with “special skill sets” who will help determine where and how the fire started.

Bartholomew said the investigative process is methodical. One part is examining the scene. Another part is interviewing witnesses, including employees, business owners, and even passersby who may have seen how the blaze began. The investigation could take hours or weeks, and it could end in one of four ways.

It could be determined that the fire was spurred by natural causes, accidental cause, intentional or incendiary causes, or the cause of the fire could be undetermined. Because of the violent and destructive nature of fire, Bartholomew said, it’s possible that evidence could have been destroyed.

The ATF will be interviewing and reinterviewing individuals about the fire, Bartholomew said. He would not speculate as to the cause of the fire at this point.

“That is a determination that will be made at the conclusion of the investigation,” Bartholomew said.

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One firefighter suffered a minor injury while fighting the blaze, which began at 9:15 a.m. Wednesday. It took 22 fire fighting vehicles and 75 fire fighters to bring the fire under control at 10:37 a.m., according to Deputy Chief Eric Fleming, of the Philadelphia Fire Department.

As flames leapt from the building’s upper windows, several employees stood on the corner of 3rd and Market. When a reporter approached, store manager Robert Siter, who began working at Suit Corner plus at the age of 23, expressed grief.

“It’s the only job I’ve ever known,” he said. “I don’t know what I’m going to do.” He  declined to speak further for the record.

Minutes later, Fire Department personnel arrived to usher the employees to the offices of the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms at 2nd and Chestnut to be interviewed. The employees were told the interview was mandatory.

“The ATF along with the Fire Marshall’s office would like to get the employees and ask them questions right away while it’s still fresh in their minds as to where did it start, when did they notice it, and things of that nature,” Fleming said when asked about that development.

Fleming would not speculate about the fire’s cause, citing a pending investigation by the Fire Marshall.

However, onlookers, including some store customers, expressed suspicion. Shirt Corner Plus, a companion store to Suit Corner which until recently was owned by the same family, was undergoing demolition when a wall collapsed several weeks ago.

Carlos Carter, who works at Colonial Penn Life Insurance on Market Street, expressed what many onlookers whispered as they watched the flames shoot from the windows and the roof.

“I don’t know, it seems sort of suspicious,” Carter said. “I really thought it was the corner building over here where the building collapsed. I didn’t know it was across the street. I hope everybody got out safe, but it looks rather funny.”

As helicopters hovered overhead and thick plumes of smoke billowed into the sky, Old City resident Michael Shapiro looked on.

“I went to walk the dog I saw the helicopters so I knew something was going on,” Shapiro said. “I looked down 3rd Street and saw the smoke so I walked over. It’s a shame. They knocked down Shirt Corner and now Suit Corner’s probably going to be gone they’re institutions in Philadelphia. I’m born and raised in Philly I used to come down here and shop back in the late 60s and 70s, buy my high boys, put a lot of starch in them. But these places are gone now. It’s a shame.”

As of 2 p.m. Wednesday, Fire Department personnel were still on the scene, as were representatives from PGW, Peco, and the Dept. of Licenses and Inspections. The Salvation Army Second Alarmers also responded.

By Thursday morning, Market Street remained shut down from 2nd to 5th St., and Fire equipment remained on the scene.

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This version includes updated information from the Fire Department and the ATF