Fire that killed 4 started in chair

A fire that killed four Montgomery County youths on Dec. 24 started in a chair in the living room, the state fire marshal's office said Tuesday. However, officials still do not know what caused the fire.

"We were unable to find an ignition source," Fire Marshal William Swope said in a press release. "We found no evidence of an accelerant, so we have concluded that the chair was ignited accidentally."

Shirley Rothwell, 17, was baby-sitting her cousins, brothers Brandon Elam, 3, Wayne Elam, 5, and Timothy Elam, 7, at her home when the fire broke out.

Neighbors pulled the four children from the house, but all were pronounced dead at a local hospital. It was later determined that they died of smoke inhalation.

Montgomery County Fire Chief Larry Potter said none of the victims was found near the chair where the fire started.

Shirley and two of the boys were in a bedroom; the other child was found in a hallway.

"I don't know if we'll ever know" exactly what happened, Potter said.

Family members had speculated that the fire might have been caused by an electrical problem, but the fire marshal's office said it had ruled out the electrical system as the cause of the blaze. The press release said there was also no heating source near the chair.

Gary Rothwell, the children's uncle, said family members were upset because they were not notified of the findings before the information was disseminated to news outlets.

"We hadn't heard nothing till it come over the news tonight," he said. "We're getting conflicting stories."

Public Protection Cabinet spokesman Jim Carroll said he did not know the fire marshal's procedures for notifying families about investigations' findings.

Rothwell said the family wanted to thank the community, because the funeral expenses for the children have been taken care of.

"A lot of people pitched in," he said.