An electrical failure exacerbated by a dried-out Christmas tree was the likely culprit for a house fire on January 19 that reached untenable conditions, killing two grandparents and four children ranging in age from six to eight years old.
The Washington Post reports that a faulty electrical outlet supplying power to lights on the 15-foot tree likely sparked the blaze in the home. “This fire was the result of a tragic accident that occurred at the absolutely worst possible time: while [Don and Sandra Pyle] and their grandchildren were sleeping,” Bill McMullan, who heads the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives office in Baltimore, told the paper. According to NFPA's latest "Fire Loss in the United States" report, electrical distribution or lighting equipment is the fourth leading cause of home fires. Moreover, one out of every 40 reported home fires that begin with a Christmas tree result in death, per NFPA.
In a statement to the press, the victims' family offered these words: "Our hope is that our loss will raise awareness that this tragic event could happen to any family."
The tragedy is also shining a light on home fire sprinklers. The unsprinklered home was built four years before a sprinkler ordinance for new residences took effect in Anne Arundel County in 2009. Fire safety officials who offered comments to The Washington Post and other news outlets said they're convinced sprinklers would have likely thwarted or lessened the losses.
“We can rebuild your house. We can’t rebuild your family," Ron Siarnick, former fire chief for Prince George's County, told Maryland news station WTOP. Prince George's is the first county in Maryland to enact a sprinkler ordinance for new homes, and has seen life-saving successes from this requirement. "That’s what sprinklers do — give you the time as the fire accelerates to hold it in check to get you out.”