Investigators: No People Killed by Fire

Investigators found no human remains inside a vacant East Wheeling house gutted by fire nearly three weeks ago, and despite initial concerns to the contrary they are now confident the blaze was not fatal.

Following the Dec. 8 fire, which began at 195 15th St. and spread to an occupied home next door at 197 15th St., police and firefighters received information indicating one or two people may have been inside the vacant structure when it ignited. But they since have been able to locate all the people they believe may have been using the house since the owner vacated it.

“Everybody’s been accounted for that we know of,” said Deputy Police Chief Martin Kimball, noting cadaver dogs found no trace of human remains in their searches of the building.

Fire Chief Larry Helms previously said four people were known to be “squatting” in the abandoned structure, and one remained missing as of about a week after the fire.

Helms said the cause of the fire remains under investigation, but he expects to learn more soon with the issuance Thursday of a court order to raze the burned house. Once demolition crews remove some of the more hazardous parts of the structure, he said, his investigators will be able to conduct a more thorough probe.

The fire began in the vacant structure at about 2:30 a.m. Dec. 8 and spread to Michael Strawn’s adjacent home. He and his family got out safely, but a pet dog that alerted them to the blaze was not able to escape.

The Strawn home is a total loss and also will have to be demolished, according to Helms.