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Fatal fire worst in state this year

Area firefighters and numerous state fire marshal investigators comb the scene of a fatal house fire late Monday. THE TRIBUNE/JESSICA ST. JAMES

PEDRO — A fire that killed five people in Elizabeth Township Monday morning has been ruled accidental.

Investigators from the Division of State Fire Marshal’s Office have determined the fire, at a two-story residence at 830 State Route 373, started at or near a portable electrical heater in the breezeway in the center of the home.

The names of the victims are Ashley Keaton, Xavier Keaton, Jacequelin Sizemore, Rachel Whitmer and Becky Hall, Chief Dale Waugh of the Elizabeth Township Volunteer Fire Department confirmed Tuesday morning. Seven others, Kathy Whitmer, Kyle Whitmer, Josh Murrell, Charlie Hall Jr., Steve Tackett, Veronica Hackney and Ashley Lyon were injured.

Twelve people were believed to be in the house at the time of the fire.

“There is no more searching going on,” Jay Sherman, a lieutenant with the Coal Grove Volunteer Fire Department, told reporters Monday morning. “We believe that we have found everyone.”

The house was formerly used as a group home about 10 years ago, Sherman said.

At the time firefighters arrived on the scene of the fire, the structure was already engulfed.

“(It was) already through the roof and the cars were on fire in the front yard,” Sherman said. “It was going pretty good.”

The victims, who were asleep at the time of the fire, appeared to have been alerted to the fire and had attempted to escape, Sherman said. They were all found in the center of the home, about 10 feet from the door.

One man jumped from a second floor window to escape the fire, Sherman said. The man then reported the fire to 911 from a neighbor’s home. He was transported to a hospital for his injuries.

Survivors told officials from the Division of State Fire Marshal that smoke alarms alerted them to the fire. Investigators were not able to confirm that because of the extent of the damage to the structure, said Shane Cartmill, public information officer for the state fire marshal’s office.

zThe exact cause has not been determined.

The Division of State Fire Marshal has six people assigned to the investigation including four investigators, one supervisor and the chief of investigations. They are working with the Lawrence County Sheriff’s Office, the Lawrence County Coroner’s Office and the Elizabeth Township Fire Department.

Two dogs alerted one of the survivors to the fire, a 13-year-old neighbor said, though Sherman could not confirm that.

Two dogs escaped the fire, while other pets, including cats and an alligator, are missing Sherman said.

Because there were no fire hydrants nearby, firefighters shuttled in an estimated 30,000 gallons of water to battle the flames. Approximately 40 firefighters from Coal Grove, Elizabeth Township, Upper Township, Decatur Township, and Hamilton Township responded to the fire.

According to the state fire marshal’s office, the fire was the deadliest in Ohio this year. On Jan. 2, four people died in a Richland County fire. Including the five lost in this fire, 106 people have died in fires in Ohio this year.