Official: Relatives believe family was in mansion for fire

AP News
Posted: Jan 20, 2015 7:47 PM
Official: Relatives believe family was in mansion for fire

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Before a massive blaze tore through a fanciful re-creation of a castle near Maryland's capital city, the riverfront mansion boasted turrets, a sprawling lawn and forested land that offered beauty and privacy.

The scene Tuesday was more reminiscent of a colonial ruin: a stark brick wall standing alone with windows missing, the ground rutted by emergency vehicles. A mountain of debris and tens of thousands of gallons of water filled the basement.

Crews in bright orange suits swarmed the scene where six members of a family were missing, and a huge crane arrived to begin sifting through the wreckage. Search dogs may be brought in to look for bodies and evidence, and fire officials suggested the process of discovering any victims from Monday's blaze could take days, not hours.

Investigators will likely begin searching Wednesday what remains of the 16,000-square-foot house, said Capt. Russ Davies, a spokesman for the Anne Arundel County Fire Department.

Davies declined to identify the family members. He said Tuesday only that relatives believe the six — a man and woman and their four grandchildren — were inside at the time of the fire.

"We know who's unaccounted for," Davies said. "If you look at the damage, you know, it would not be a stretch to think that if there were occupants that they did not survive the fire."

State property records show Don and Sandra Pyle owned the $6.2 million home and it was their primary residence. The company where Don Pyle was an executive, ScienceLogic of Reston, Virginia, confirmed there had been a fire at his home.

Davies said in an email Tuesday night that water in the basement, plus unstable steel beams and walls, made entering the basement dangerous.

Davies said once inside, crews will begin stabilizing the wreckage and pumping out the basement, which was flooded by water firefighters sprayed on the building. The mansion had no sprinkler system. Heavy equipment has been brought to the scene, he said.

"We're going to be talking about days, not hours, to get this done," Davies said.

The fire was reported about 3:30 a.m. Monday by an alarm-monitoring company and a neighbor who spotted flames. Officials said it is unclear whether an alarm sounded inside the home, which might have alerted anyone inside.

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Some 85 firefighters from several jurisdictions fought the fire. Davies said because there was no hydrant in the area, firefighters shuttled tankers to the site and stationed a fire boat at a pier nearby. Davies said hot spots took about 10 hours to extinguish Monday. One area flared up Tuesday, and Davies said crews were monitoring it and extinguishing it as needed.

Agents with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives joined the investigation. Special Agent David Cheplak, a spokesman for the bureau's Baltimore field office, said there was no evidence at this point of foul play.

Still, Capt. Robert Howarth, commander of the county fire department's fire and explosives investigation unit, said Tuesday that investigators were treating the site as a crime scene. Howarth said that is a common practice when there are no eyewitnesses, and it means only that anything recovered in the investigation would be admissible in court.