Investigators Look For Cause Of Deadly Fire, Building Collapse In Wilmington
By Jan Carabeo
WILMINGTON, Del., (CBS) — Investigators spent Tuesday sifting through rubble on Bird Street in Wilmington looking for the cause of a fire and building collapse that killed one person and sent two others to the hospital.
Fire officials say the fire broke out around 10:30 p.m. on Monday (See Previous Story). It was big enough to be seen at least 10 blocks away and took nearly 70 firefighters about an hour to extinguish.
One man, who authorities are not yet identifying, was killed. The Medical Examiner’s Office is working to positively identify him.
Two women were also taken to the hospital with burns and smoke inhalation.
“I’m trying to understand what’s really happened here,” Dornella Pennewell. “I’m devastated by it.”
Pennewell says her cousin, 49-year-old Francine Wallace, was injured in the fire and taken to the hospital will burns over 80 percent of her body. She says her cousin lived at the home on Bird Street.
“That’s unbelievable, that’s my older sister,” Martin Williams said. “To see her hurt like that, that’s uncalled for.”
The Fire Marshal has not yet determined a cause of the fire, only saying that the fire spread quickly and the building collapsed unusually fast.
“It was early on before the fire department even arrived, it was a significant collapse, which is highly unusual,” Wilmington Fire Marshal William McKim said.
Wallace’s family believes an old boyfriend could be to blame.
“Her ex-boyfriend burned it down, that’s all I know,” Pennewell said.
“Just doused the whole house with gasoline,” William added.
Neighbors say they heard an explosion, but officials aren’t confirming that. They say it could take days to determine and exact cause.
Meanwhile, the community remains rattled. One neighbor recalls trying to save the man who was caught inside the burning building.
“I tried to get him to crawl closer to me and then the flames got so hot I had to get out of the house,” Frederick Purnell said.
Fire officials say the 49-year-old woman and her friend remain in the hospital.
Wilmington’s Department of Licenses and Inspections was also on scene Tuesday. The commissioner says structural engineers will have to inspect three neighboring buildings to make sure they are safe for use.