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January 29, 2013 05:44 PM

Cause Of Fatal SF House Fire Is 'Undetermined'

Sioux Falls, SD

We will likely never know what caused the December 22, 2012, house fire that killed three children in central Sioux Falls.

After a week-long investigation, the Sioux Falls Fire Marshal says the official cause of the deadly fire will be listed as 'undetermined.'

Since last Tuesday, investigators have been going in and out of the house looking for clues as they worked to figure out how the fire started that killed 16-year-old Michael Hensley, 12-year-old Savannah Coon and 6-year-old Alivia Coon.

"What we could not find was evidence of the exact cause and that's why we're having to list this fire as undetermined," Sioux Falls Fire Marshal Dean Lanier said.

Lanier did say they believe the fire started by a table and a chair in the corner of the first-floor living room. 

An engineer who examined the scene found no signs of electrical problems in the 100-year-old home.  Lanier says everything was so heavily damaged that investigators could not pinpoint the exact cause.

"The physical items that were in that corner were no longer distinguishable and everything in that corner had basically been consumed by the fire," Lanier said.

Fire officials, a police detective, as well as a private fire investigator and attorneys hired by the renters of the home, Rhiannon White and her husband David, were all in on the inspection.

Following the fire, White was charged with drug possession.  Police say she had meth, ecstasy and marijuana in her system immediately after the fire. Police found no drugs or paraphernalia in the home during the investigation.

"There's no physical evidence that has been found and there's really nothing that would lead at least our detective to think there's going to be any kind of additional charges," Sioux Falls Police Public Information Officer Sam Clemens said.

An attorney for the Whites had no comment on the investigation's outcome Tuesday.

It’s a frustrating outcome for authorities who've been hoping to find answers to the fire that claimed three young lives.

"In this case, we've run the cause all the way to its end and found nothing we could principally say was the cause," Lanier said.

A dog trained to sniff for accelerants went through the house twice and it did not find any signs of chemicals which could have been used to intentionally start the fire.

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