UPDATED: Cause of fire that killed 5 girls in Butte trailer was 'cooking-related,' fire marshal says

Published: Sep. 14, 2017 at 12:26 PM AKDT
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The cause of the fire that killed five girls Thursday at a Butte mobile home was determined to be “cooking-related,” according to the Alaska State Fire Marshal.

The blaze, reported at about seven a.m. at 2910 Wickham Circle, led to the smoke inhalation death of five sisters. The State Medical Examiner’s Office identified them as Alexis Quackenbush, 12, Nevaeh Flores, 8, Lilyanna Flores, 7, Sofia Flores, 6 and Jaelynn Flores, 3, all of Palmer.

In a press conference on Thursday afternoon, Fire Marshal David Tyler said the evidence collected by three deputies working the investigation over the past week is “clear-cut.”

“If we don't know what it is, we're going to say it's undetermined,” said Tyler. “If we know beyond a shadow of a doubt, we're going to give it a cause and that's what we've done this time. It's cooking related.”

The investigation determined the fire was accidental, there was no foul play involved and Tyler believes no charges are forthcoming.

According to Tyler, investigators were able to follow a “V-pattern” cut by the flames to confidently ascertain the fire sparked in the kitchen. He said there was an electric stove in the home but was not ready to release where exactly in the kitchen the fire began or what was the fire’s initial fuel.

An electrical fire, Tyler said, was easily ruled out as the cause.

“They looked at the outlets, and there was no indication it started there,” said Tyler.

According to Tyler, no fire alarms were found inside the structure or within the burnt remains of the trailer. He said it’s a landlord’s responsibility to provide working fire alarms inside a rental, but after a renter moves in, it’s up to the tenants to keep the alarms in working order.

Tyler said a fire this devastating, killing this many children at one time, has only happened a few times in Alaska's recorded fire history. Since 1961, he said there have been 14 fires where four children died in a single fire incident, two fires where six children died and one fire where eight children died.

“It hits home to our investigators,” said Tyler. “My investigators have kids too, so it's a very difficult situation.”

Tyler urged residents to make sure they have working smoke alarms within their homes, and they practice fire drills with children. Although Tyler wouldn’t comment if it pertained to this particular case, he said it's common to find young children seeking comfort inside of bedrooms rather than running outside when facing a life-threatening fire incident.