Cause of fatal Chesapeake Beach fire will remain undetermined

The Maryland fire marshal said on Wednesday that the investigation into a fatal fire that tore through a row of town homes in Chesapeake Beach last week has concluded.

“The official cause of the fire is being left undetermined,” said Fire Marshal Brian Geraci. “But we believe, based on witnesses and people in the neighborhood, that the most probable cause was probably discarded smoking material in the mulch area. Then, based on the weather conditions and the wind and the construction of the town homes, is why we saw so much fire damage and destruction that day.”

Strong, continuous wind gusts not only helped the fire quickly grow but also made it more difficult for firefighters to extinguish the flames.

“There was a space underneath of there where the fire got up underneath those [houses],” said Geraci. He said it also appeared another fire in the area, which happened about a month or two before, was also started by discarded smoking materials at another townhouse in the neighborhood.

“We saw some burning and charring through the structure, and again, it was as a result of smoking material,” said Geraci. “Luckily, that one didn’t go.”

Killed in the blaze were Wendy Welch, 52, and her granddaughter, 13-year-old Stephanie Link. Geraci said it appears their final minutes were spent frantically hoping help would arrive.

“The dispatcher on the phone was telling them to jump out of the window to get out of the house,” said Geraci. “We just feel that there was some panic involved in that, and with the conditions the way they were and how they progressed so rapidly,” Geraci said. “It’s just unfortunate that they didn’t get out. It bothers me that they couldn’t escape.”

“For some reason, I guess, they chose not to do that or didn’t think it was a wise decision at the time. We just really won’t know the whole situation that was going on there that day inside that home.”

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