No timetable – Fire investigation ongoing

Posted by Dan Whisenhunt May 7, 2014
An Avondale Estates home was completely destroyed during an April 12 fire. Photo by Dan Whisenhunt

An Avondale Estates home was completely destroyed during an April 12 fire. Photo by Dan Whisenhunt

It’s been almost a month since two Avondale Estates residents – a mother and a daughter – died in a house fire, and there’s been no official explanation about what caused it.

Fire investigators are still working to determine a cause, DeKalb County Fire and Rescue spokesman Capt. Eric Jackson said.

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

Jackson said there is no typical length for a fire investigation, particularly if the fire involved fatalities.

“As it relates to investigations, there’s really no timetable,” Jackson said. “It really depends on what it is that they’re looking at and how far in-depth they need to go. They never let anyone from outside the fire service – be it residents, family, media, whomever – they never let them or their opinion drive how the investigation is determined in terms of a time frame, because they’re very meticulous and very methodical and they don’t want to get caught up in the rush to judgment just to say something.”

Jackson wasn’t able to say how close the investigators are to completing their work, saying they are sparse with details even when it’s a fellow firefighter asking the questions.

“I feel very comfortable saying they’re not where they were when the fire first happened but they’re not to the point of completion,” he said.

So far, the only other clues about that night come from police reports filed by Avondale Estates police officers. 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.

“You think about how a fire starts which is why the investigation is so important, which is why there’s probably a good reason (the cause) hasn’t come out yet, because they’re looking at a number of things,” Jackson said in an interview for the April 15 story. ” … If you’re winding the time back, somehow this fire started off with a very small flame and a little bit of smoke that caught on to a combustible that kept on catching on fire.”

Jackson said on May 7 that the department will send out a press release once the cause is determined. He said the investigators don’t want to rush to a conclusion.

“Once they determine that’s the cause, that’s the cause,” Jackson said. “They don’t want to have to go back and retract or modify or anything like that.”

The community has continued to support Dave and Jack Willadsen since the tragedy. On May 10, there will be a “Jack’s Rabbit Run.” According to an announcement from the city, the race will take place at the triangle between Berkeley Road and Kensington Road. It begins at 8:30 am, and participants are expected to arrive no later than 7:45 am.   Parking is available at First Baptist Church of Avondale Estates, 47 Covington Road.

The entry fee is $25 per person, with all proceeds going to benefit the Willadsen family. People can register for the event by clicking here.

The event announcement says, “Jack’s Rabbit Run is a 1-mile kids’ run at 8:30 am and 5K adult run at 9 am in Avondale Estates. Benefiting Jack Willadsen and his father Dave, and in memory of Tami and Jess Willadsen, the run is named for Jack’s love of rabbits.”

About Dan Whisenhunt

Dan Whisenhunt is editor and publisher of

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