Fatal Abingdon fire started on the first floor, officials say

March 09, 2007|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,sun reporter

The fire that killed five people and destroyed their Abingdon home in January began in the first-floor living room of the two-story, frame house, fire officials said yesterday.

Investigators said they have not determined the cause of the blaze that killed Jerome and Annette Shropshire and three of their grandchildren Jan. 18. But they have ruled out arson and eliminated several possible sources, including the heating and electrical systems.

Investigators from the state fire marshal's office and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives spent weeks on the scene combing through debris. They conducted interviews with family members and dozens of people who called 911 or saw the fire. The account of one witness, who entered the home through the front door only to be driven back by heat, helped investigators establish how the fire spread, said W. Faron Taylor, deputy state fire marshal.

Investigators have not ruled out as a possible source a wood-burning stove that was installed in the living room fireplace and was operating on the day of the fire, Taylor said. Careless smoking also has not been ruled out, he said.

"In determining the cause of a fire, you can only be left with one thing," Taylor said. "Things have to be scientifically eliminated for us to come to a conclusion. We can never call it until we know."

The investigation will continue, but the results may not change, given that the fire consumed so much of the evidence, he said.

"What we are faced with here is that there are other possibilities that, thus far, we have not been able to rule out," he said. "We are absolutely continuing this investigation."

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