As I was recently listening to the tragic story of the house fire in Buckingham County that claimed the lives of three people, something that the Virginia State Police said caught my ear: investigators had not yet been able to rule out that the fire could have been set intentionally.
Fire investigators begin at the same point at every fire: was this fire intentionally set or is there an accidental cause? Determining how a fire started is vitally important to the safety and well-being of those living in a community. I believe that the fire in Buckingham will be found to be a tragic accident, happening when this family was sound asleep. Investigators will have to follow the evidence, wherever it leads.
I remember a Christmastime fire in a mobile home many years back. The family narrowly escaped the fire, which destroyed their home and all of their Christmas presents. While investigators began their investigation, the fire service and the community came together to give the family as good of a Christmas as they could. Gifts and clothing were gathered, as well as many other things that the family had lost in the fire. A seemingly unbelievable fire cause was determined by skilled fire investigators. The evidence led investigators back to the father, who would admit to intentionally setting this fire that nearly claimed the lives of him and his family.
I really have no idea what they will find in Buckingham County. The fire occurred around 5 a.m. Investigators had to start from the unburned and then go to the burned areas. Their job is to narrow it down from the building, to the area, to the room, and finally to the point of origin.
The fire gutted the home. The victims were reported to have been found in either one bedroom or bedrooms plural, which makes perfect sense at that time of the morning. My concern is that there were either no working smoke alarms or an inadequate number of smoke alarms.
The medical examiner will determine the cause of death of the three victims. It is my belief that this family only had one opportunity to escape a fire like this. It would have required multiple smoke alarms activating. The family would have had to wake up and take the correct actions necessary to escape the home.
Investigators will follow a methodical process to try to determine the cause of this fire. Discussions with first-arriving firefighters and neighbors will have to be done, providing a picture of what they saw in the beginning stages of this fire. In a way, investigators have to metaphorically rebuild this house in their mind’s eyes.
In an intentionally set fire, the area or point of origin still must be found. Once it is determined how the fire was set, then they must find who set it. Sometimes they first determine the “who,” which leads to the “how.”
For the accidental fire, investigators find the area or point of origin and then try to determine what was there that could have caused that fire.
Whatever the cause, this fire was tragic. This family had just mourned the loss of one child in a motor vehicle accident a month prior. My heart goes out to this family, but we need to learn everything possible from this fire, seeking to prevent this from ever happening again.
Please ensure that your home has an adequate number of properly placed and operating smoke alarms, and put into place a practiced home escape plan.