Possible causes ruled out in fatal Pendleton fire

September 24, 2013 

— Investigators say they don’t know exactly what caused a house fire that killed five people Sunday in Eastern Oregon, but it wasn’t arson caused by an accelerant or an accident in a drug lab.

It appears the fire began on the front porch, Pendleton police Chief Stuart Roberts said Tuesday.

There was some thought it started in a can of cigarette butts, but investigators couldn’t verify that, he said.

Investigators from local, state and federal agencies spent the day at the gutted two-story house on Monday, he said. They had a dog trained to sniff out accelerants such as gasoline.

“There was no accelerant detected in or around the residence,” Roberts said. Nor was there evidence of illegal activity such as a methamphetamine lab or hashish production, he said.

The five victims are believed to be a man, a woman and three young children. Police haven’t released their names. Autopsies are expected to begin Tuesday.

Roberts said police believe they know who the victims are, but there are obstacles to making positive identifications: It’s difficult to ask family members to identify remains in such cases, and DNA tests could mean a lengthy process of gathering samples from relatives and getting lab tests done.

Two people survived Kay Williams, 27, and David Erickstaed, 46. They were hospitalized in serious condition.

Roberts says their names appear on the rental agreement for the house, they appear to be in-laws, but officers haven’t pinpointed their relationship.

They have been taken off breathing tubes, he said, and officers plan to follow up on initial interviews with them.

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