(ANNAPOLIS, Md.) — Investigators say they are “days, not hours” away from knowing the cause of a mysterious inferno that devastated an Annapolis, Maryland, mansion, and the fate of six people who may have been inside the home remains unknown.
“The entire 16,000 square-feet has collapsed, so we’ll be doing an extensive digging operation to get down and try to locate not only the origin of the fire, the cause of the fire, [but also] any of the unaccounted for victims,” said Capt. Robert Howarth of the Anne Arundel County Fire Department Investigations Unit.
“The focus is to make the building safe enough for personnel to enter to start conducting a search,” Anne Arundel Fire Capt. Russ Davies told ABC News.
However, crews may not be able to get into the house until Wednesday because there are unstable walls, water in the basement, and “structural beams that may need to be removed,” Davies said. In addition, there continue to be small active fires burning at the scene, officials told reporters Tuesday morning.
Davies said officials will not release information about the home’s occupants until they are located.
“The last known location for the six [missing family members] was inside the house,” Davies said. “So the house is the primary investigation.”
Davies said officials interviewed neighbors who “gave us conflicting accounts” of the whereabouts of the family.
“The best information we have from the family is they were in the house overnight,” Davies added.
Davies said this is the longest he’s gone without answers on a case “in recent memory.”
“The standard house [is] 2,500 square-feet,” Howarth said. “So you’re looking at five standard houses put together. Six people in five standard houses, not a lot. Put them in one big house like this, this is more like a commercial fire than it is a residential fire.”
Crews responded to a fire at the home at about 3:30 a.m. Monday, officials said. The fire, which reached four alarms, was reported by the alarm company and a 911 call from a neighbor. Officials said 85 firefighters responded to the scene and the blaze was brought under control in about 3.5 hours.
The Baltimore Field Division of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives was also assisting at the scene.
Agent Bill McMullan said ATF investigators from the national response team, who are “especially trained to do work on large fires,” were expected to arrive at the scene Tuesday “to add to our Baltimore resources.”
The national team hopes to enter the house Wednesday morning to begin a “very systematic process” that includes forensic mapping, photographing the scene, and releasing a canine “especially trained to detect accelerants,” McMullan said.
The Maryland State Fire Marshall’s Office was also assisting with the investigation, according to the ATF.
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