Testimonies of some witnesses claim that the fire began high on the big top sidewall. Others testified that the fire started low on the sidewall. The origin of the fire was determined to have been in the vicinity of the men’s room, which was a canvas structure abutting the big top. An explanation for the differences in witness testimonies is that the men’s room wall was in full burn before the fire spread to the big top wall, and when the fire did penetrate the big top wall it did so in more than one location, simultaneously. One phase of this testing will examine how the fire spread from the men’s room to the big top, with views from inside and outside of the test model. Another phase of the testing will experiment with different types of ignition devices and scenarios that might have existed, such as dried grass, sawdust, discarded cigarette, matches, and more.
Many victims and survivors of the fire were injured by burning, wax-coated canvas falling from above as they tried to escape. One phase of this testing will examine the effects of the burning canvas on objects that it has fallen on, such as wood, clothing, and hair.