Fire investigators eye cigarette, wiring

January 12, 2010 9:48:00 AM

Tim Pratt -


Investigators still haven''t determined a cause of the Dec. 28 blaze that killed nine people at Academy Crossing Apartments, but a Wednesday meeting among fire officials, electrical engineers and others could change that.  


Starkville Fire Department Chief Rodger Mann traveled to Jackson today to meet with the state fire marshal''s office. He will be back in Starkville for a meeting Wednesday with private insurance investigators, engineers and other fire officials to try to figure out the cause of the blaze.  


"We are going to hopefully have our final meeting in regards to establishing a cause on Wednesday," Mann said Monday. "We''re going to be able to get together and hopefully it will be, ''I''m going to defeat your cause or I''m going to prove my cause,'' back and forth until we can straighten it out." 


State Fire Marshal Mike Chaney said authorities have narrowed down the cause of the fire. Chaney told The Clarion-Ledger on Monday that electrical engineers at State Farm examined what remained of the apartment and probably will rule out an electrical fire. He says that leaves a smoldering cigarette left on a chair as the likely cause.  


State Chief Deputy Fire marshal Rick Davis said today that there isn''t an official determination, and his office is still looking at electrical systems. 


Monday marked the two weeks since the fire that killed India Williams, 25, and her three children, Jacorian Vasser, 6, Richard Vasser Jr., 5, and Kamarion Williams, 2; Castella Maria Bell, 18, and her three children, Ta''Nayia Bell, 4, Jayvion Bell, 3, and Sumaya Bell, 6 months; and Lakesha Gillespie, 20. 


According to Mann, it is common for fire investigations to last weeks or months at a time.  


"We''ve had other fires that took a lot longer to figure out," Mann said. "We have fires where the investigation goes on and on and on, and the public, you kind of forget about it because it was no major deal, but we still work on them. We''re not working this fire any different than any other fire. We just won''t take ''No'' for an answer as a cause. This is not uncommon for us at all to take this long." 


The group Wednesday will look at evidence collected from the scene, witness statements, burn patterns and other items, Mann said. 


Mann hopes the electrical engineers will be able to solve some of the questions residents of Academy Crossing have raised about possible faulty wiring. 


"He may be able to answer some of these questions we have out there," Mann said.  


Mann compared a fire investigation to a puzzle.  


"Every time you find a piece, you''re one piece closer," Mann said. "I always say that in every puzzle you have three or four golden nuggets that are critical pieces in the puzzle. Until we can find more of those, it''s just dragging. It''s not a dead-end investigation by any means. We''re just at one of those points where it''s hard to put things together. We''re just going to basically review stuff (Wednesday) from the beginning all the way through." 


According to Mann, investigators have narrowed the starting point of the fire down to a 50-square-foot space in the living room. Six of the victims'' bodies were found in a bedroom in the back of the apartment, two were in a bathroom and one was in the kitchen. The apartment had no back door.  


Since autopsies performed on India Williams, Castella Bell and Gillespie revealed the three died of smoke inhalation, Oktibbeha County Coroner Michael Hunt didn''t order autopsies on the six children.