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Last updated on Friday, March 30, 2012
(WASHINGTON) - The cause has yet to be determined for a March 21 fire that killed 37-year-old April Mandabach, injured her daughter and boyfriend, left seven families homeless and decimated an apartment building in Washington.
Andrea McCann of the Washington Times-Herald reports, the state fire marshal should have a report for Washington Fire Chief David Rhoads within a week.
The insurance company for the building's owner, Thaddeus Rusk of Washington Rentals, also has investigated the fire, and Rhoads says Mandabach's family has hired an investigator.
"I want to get to the bottom of it myself," Rhoads said.
The fire department had been called at 5:45 a.m. to check out an odor of smoke and some haze that Mandabach and her boyfriend, Steve Potts, 40, had noticed in their upstairs apartment and hallway at 110 NE Seventh St. According to Potts, Mandabach had detected the smoke smell, which he described as a burnt marshmallow odor, after they'd stayed up late watching a movie and were finally getting ready for bed. They checked around and Potts noticed a light haze in the hallway, so he had Mandabach call 911.
Potts said Ptl. Kyle Babrick, the first police officer on the scene, smelled the smoke, but because the downstairs door was opened and Mandabach and Potts had windows open with a fan going, the haze and odor had dissipated by the time everyone else arrived.
According to the police record of the complaint, the fire department was on the scene until 6:32 a.m. searching for a cause. They used a thermal imager, a handheld device that shows hot spots in a structure.
"A thermal imager is a heat sensor," Battalion Chief Rick Mattingly explained. "It shows body heat. If you run hot water, it'll show it running through the pipes. It's quite sensitive."
If it shows a heat source, the firefighters will begin to tear apart that area for a closer look. Rhoads said firefighters checked every apartment in the house, which had been divided into seven units, as well as the attic and exterior. However, nothing unusual showed up.
"Before we left, we talked to the owner and expressed concern there was something upstairs, but nothing was showing up," Rhoads said.
In addition, they gathered all the tenants and explained the same thing, telling them to call if they noticed anything again.
"It wasn't like we just floated in and floated out," Rhoads said. "We don't like to leave when we can't find some explanation. The last thing we want to do is lose somebody's life. That's what we're here for - to save lives and property."
Potts said he felt like the firefighters checked everything thoroughly. He said they even climbed a ladder to the attic window and used the thermal imager there.
"They looked around at everything, but there was nothing to see or smell," he said.
Potts said he didn't lay down until about 10:30 a.m., and everything was fine at that time. Potts said he set his alarm for 3 p.m. so they could get up and run errands. But his alarm never had a chance to go off. Around 1 p.m., Lacy Wadsworth, Mandabach's 18-year-old daughter who was staying with them temporarily, woke them with her screams about the fire.
According to Potts, he grabbed his eyeglasses and put them on but all he could see was black smoke. He said he ran to the apartment door to see if they could get out that way, but the knob was so hot from the inferno that it blistered his hand. Continuing to look for an escape route, he made his way to a window facing Seventh Street and shoved a window air conditioner out so they could flee the fire that way.
Potts said he couldn't see the women, so he shouted for them to come to the window and crawl out onto the porch.
"About the time I did that I heard the alley window break," he said. "Lacy jumped."
Det. Trent McWilliams of the Washington Police Department propped up a ladder for Potts to climb down. Mandabach never made it out.
"They think maybe she had a panic attack or the smoke got to her," Potts said.
Wadsworth was transported to Wishard Memorial Burn Center in Indianapolis to be treated for her injuries, he said, and family members are staying with her. According to Potts, she's up and about and is getting skin grafts on her scorched right side.
Potts was transported to Vanderbilt Burn Center in Nashville, Tenn., where he was placed into an induced coma while he began to heal from internal injuries to his throat and lungs from the heat and smoke. He was released Sunday, but still suffers from a sore throat, trouble breathing and eating.
"They were really concerned about my lungs," he said, adding that they must've inhaled a lot of smoke in their sleep, because they got out of the apartment fairly quickly. "They wanted me to have breathing treatments, but I don't have insurance right now."
He said his doctors told him to stay active so he doesn't develop blood clots and to eat right and continue taking vitamins.
Mandabach, Wadsworth and Potts were the only ones in the structure at the time of the fire.
Rhoads said the rubble may be cleaned up early next week. Rusk said he's left."
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