The Third Step

The third step refers to the third step from the bottom of the Meadows’ north stairwell, and was the lowest step where the fire caused damage.

  • The stairwell ends with a one-way exit door to outside and is near a garbage dumpster.
  • The third step is a short distance from this one-way exit door.
  • It is obvious that there was a flammable liquid and that the burned areas were limited to where the liquid was present.

Shapes of Burns

How do you get these kinds of shapes from a liquid fuel in a fire?

The most striking feature about the third step is the shapes that were burned onto the carpet of that step. There is an obvious burn area of a square which slightly overlaps with a burn area of a less-distinct oval.

These burn shapes indicate that objects were laid at those positions on the step while a flammable liquid was leaking there. All other burned areas had no such curious burn patterns but only had burns of thin trails or of puddles where the flammable liquid was present.

  • The stairwell’s exit door cannot be opened from the outside (unless it is propped open), making the whole pathway of the fire damage a one-way route from the hall’s south end to the end of the stairwell.

The third step, being close to the stairwell’s one-way exit door, is at a convenient height onto which a physically disabled man who requires crutches was able to momentarily place a small garbage bag while he propped open the one-way door with an outside rock. He could then more easily retrieve his garbage bag without having to stoop down, then take the garbage bag out to the dumpster and return and reenter the stairwell.

The evidence says that this man who requires crutches, who we call the “guy in a red shirt” or “guy in red,” took a small, plastic garbage bag out to the dumpster by using this hallway and stairwell.

The bag carried an alcohol-like liquid, which was possibly from one or more opened and unfinished beer cans.

When this guy in red entered the hall’s south door, the bag swung around the automatic door as it was opening, which caused the bag to be squeezed between the door and the wall, resulting in rupturing the bag or disturbing its contents. The bag started leaking at this point.

The Swinging Arc

He carried the bag with his right hand, which is why most of the flammable liquid was on the right side of the hall and the outer edges of the stairwell’s inside. At the stairwell’s mid-landing (between flights of stairs), he stayed to his left while the bag swung around to his right in a wide arc near the outer walls; otherwise, he would have been walking alongside the stairwell’s outer walls (to leak/pour the liquid), which no one does and which he, especially, would not do because of his disability.

The Third Step Impression

This guy in red placed his leaking garbage bag onto the third step from the bottom of the stairwell, so that he could prop open the one-way exit door. The bag’s contents pressed against the step’s carpet. The bag’s leaked liquid was able to pool or to wick out through the gap between the carpet and the bag (being pushed against the carpet from the bag’s contents), which formed the ovalish shape.

The square-based object on the step may have been either inside or next to the garbage bag. The leaked liquid that reached the object’s square base along the carpet was able to more easily wick throughout the space between the carpet and the square-based object.


Within moments of removing the garbage bag from the third step, the liquid had to have been (accidentally) ignited. Otherwise, the square burn would not be so well defined, because the liquid would have continued to spread, likely into a more circular pattern. As the fire burned away its only fuel—the flammable liquid—it only burned near the liquid. The burn shape was where the liquid existed. By itself, the fire did not generate enough heat to burn the carpet, and it required the liquid fuel to survive. Once the liquid was exhausted, the fire soon died out.

The ignition could have easily and accidentally come from a smoker’s cigarette lighter, since smokers often liked to light up next to the exit door. A static discharge is also possible. A spark could have come from the friction between a rock and another material. Even a 7.2-kV power transformer outside could have provided a spark to ignite the flammable liquid.

If the liquid had been gasoline as investigators claim, the fire would have generated enough heat to burn all of the carpet and everything else, blow out the window, and kill or severely injure anyone near the fire at ignition or afterward.

Collecting the Carpet Sample

No information is available about these two fingertip-shaped impressions that were collected as part of the sample.

Additional Photos

All other photos related to the third step are provided below.

Scroll to Top