Closed – Cause of Avondale fire “undetermined”

Posted by Dan Whisenhunt May 28, 2014
Photo taken by DeKalb County Fire and Rescue of an April 12 house fire in Avondale Estates.

Photo taken by DeKalb County Fire and Rescue of an April 12 house fire in Avondale Estates.

This story was updated on May 29.

DeKalb County Fire investigators have said they were unable to determine the cause of an April 12 house fire that killed a mother and her daughter in Avondale Estates.

The cause of the fire has officially been classified as, “undetermined” spokesman Capt. Eric Jackson said. He said he case is officially closed.

“With this one, they just couldn’t determine just what the cause was,” Jackson said. “And it’s not uncommon for that to happen.”

Tami Willadsen 43, and her daughter, Jess, 10, died in the April 12 fire on Lakeshore Drive. Her son, Jack, 5, was severely burned and his father, Dave, also received injuries.

There were clues pointing to a potential cause in an Avondale Estates Police reports about the incident. One of the witnesses told an officer that candles had possibly been left lit on the front porch. A few days after the fire, Jackson said the structure was engulfed in flames when the fire trucks arrived, making a rescue attempt impossible. Jackson said for the fire to have totally engulfed the 5,624 square foot home it would’ve needed a head start on the firefighters.

The Willadsens had just moved into the home and there was a gathering there on the night of the fire. A witness told an officer that guests were in the backroom of the home “when the fire suddenly started from the front of the house and quickly spread to the rear.”

Jackson said causes of fires generally fall into four categories: Intentional (which was officially ruled out in this case), accidental, natural and undetermined.

Jackson said investigators explored the possibility that a lit candle started the fire.

“They investigated that. They looked into that,” he said. “Based upon what they were able to get, they weren’t able to pinpoint absolutely with any certainty that is what actually caused the fire. They looked into it as much as they possibly could to see if they could determine a definite cause.”

Jackson said he wasn’t sure if the case would the case could be reopened if new evidence becomes available.

“Frankly speaking, because of the way the fire happened and because of the individuals that had initially given statements, we’d like to think that we captured everybody who might’ve seen or heard anything,” he said.

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  • Hyacinth

    “Jackson said he wasn’t sure if the case would be reopened if new evidence becomes available.” ??? Please explain.

    • I apologize for being so late with the response. I asked Capt. Jackson specifically whether the case could potentially be reopened. He said he didn’t know off hand and would have to check on it. He’s pretty good about responding to questions, so I will update this story if he gives me an answer one way or the other. I hope this helps.

  • Truthteller

    Well, I called him after the fire with information, left a message and he never called back. The family’s attorney called me and took the information. The morning after the fire, for some reason, a bulldozer destroyed the origin area of the fire (front porch) thereby destroying evidence. I proposed that Avondale city officials please keep pressure on the county inspector because it is personal to us and we need this information so it cannot happen again. To my knowledge, this was ignored. I said at the beginning that my fear is that the county would be slack and do exactly what they did. Punch in, collect a check, punch out, and not pursue this with the dogged determination using all modern professional techniques, and we will not know what happened.

    • sadness

      Why all the mystery? It is sad and tragic, but accidents happen. If candles were left burning, that is sad and led to tragic results, but leaving candles burning outdoors is not out of the ordinary. Bad things happen to good people, sadly.

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