Neighbors of the Drake family in Brinnon, near their vacation home, and in Monroe, where their children attended school, are mourning the family of five.
Autopsies completed after the devastating cabin fire that killed a family of five in Brinnon “revealed no indicators to suspect foul play,” said Jefferson County Prosecuting Attorney Michael Haas.
“It’s shaping up to look like a horrible accident,” he said Tuesday afternoon.
Haas said more information from the autopsies would be released after he had spoken to the victims’ family members.
Jenny and Jerry Drake, both 42, and their three boys, 11, 8 and 2, were killed in the cabin blaze early Sunday morning.
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The family, from Monroe, had used the cabin as a regular weekend getaway. Neighbors said other members of their extended family also kept cabins on the premises and sometimes gathered there. Family members reached after the fire said they did not want to comment on the difficult event.
The Drake family’s two older children attended Fryelands Elementary in Monroe. One boy was in second grade, and another attended fifth-grade classes.
“The family was connected and well known in our community and the impact of their death is widespread,” said Erin Zacharda, a communications director for the Monroe School District, in an email. Zacharda said news of the tragedy was shared with students Tuesday. A crisis-intervention team was at the school Tuesday, and a team of therapy dogs will visit the school Wednesday.
The Drake family attended services at Cascade Community Church in Monroe, Zacharda said. The church is holding a community vigil Thursday.
In Brinnon, the community was still reeling from the loss.
“The neighborhood is mourning,” said Tim Manly, the city’s fire chief. “They were friends with the neighbors in the area, their children played with other children. They knew them. They talked to them.”
Officials are continuing to examine forensic evidence and piece together what might have caused the fire.
“This is still in progress and weeks from a conclusion,” Jefferson County Undersheriff Art Frank said of the investigation, in an email.
A small propane tank found at the scene of the cabin fire likely intensified the blaze.
Neighbor Dave Gardner, who was sleeping in a trailer nearby, said he awoke Sunday morning to a hissing sound akin to the noise of a blow torch. Later, he saw flames at the cabin and then heard the sound a tea kettle makes when under pressure.
Then, “poof — it opened up, and that’s when flames shot upward” reaching higher than the tall trees nearby, he said.
That does not mean a propane leak started the fire.
Experts Tuesday said propane containers are designed to vent when subjected to pressure. Heat from an encroaching fire could have caused propane gas to expand inside, increasing pressure within the container and triggering a safety-relief device designed to release gas and prevent the tank from exploding for as long as possible.
Venting gas could explain the vertical, shooting flames Gardner saw.
Given the public details of the investigation, Lisa Hartman, the director of Industrial & Chemical Engineering at the National Fire Protection Association, said it was not possible to know what role, if any, the propane tank had in starting the fire.
“Which came first? Did the tank catch on fire and then the house caught on fire? Or, did the house catch on fire and flash back to the tank?” she wondered.
Experts said propane containers should receive regular inspection and maintenance. Tanks should be free of dents, corrosion or other damage. Valves and valve lines should be in good working order. Propane containers should remain outside. Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors can provide important warnings, they added.
Otherwise, using propane inside a home is little different from using natural gas.
“It is a flammable liquid. As such it does carry some risk,” Hartman said.
Seattle Times staff reporter Sarah Wu and news researcher Miyoko Wolf contributed to this story.