Four Hall County Fire officials and multiple insurance investigators on Wednesday said the Flowery Branch subdivision fire that engulfed four homes during the early hours of Dec. 18 was caused by an undetermined accident.
Investigators concluded the fire originated in the bedroom of Larry Cleveland, 61, of Flowery Branch, who perished in the fire. Cleveland was the only fatality in the blaze that spread to three other homes on the 5600 block of Ashmoore Court in the Madison Creek subdivision off Jim Crow Road.
Damage estimates from the fire range between $750,000 and $1 million. Many Christmas presents were also destroyed.
According to Capt. Scott Cagle, Hall County fire marshal, Cleveland was found in the bathroom adjacent to his bedroom. Cagle said the home was equipped with smoke alarms.
"In fact, when we started our investigation, one was still going off," Cagle said. "(Cleveland) could’ve been awoken by the fire alarm or the fire itself since it started in his bedroom."
Cagle said Cleveland’s bed linens were probably the first material to ignite in the bedroom, but it is the heat source that investigators could not determine due to multiple plausible scenarios.
"There were still too many things we couldn’t cross out," Cagle said.
He added that causes are often difficult to determine in house fires where damage is extensive or possible witnesses are deceased, as in Cleveland’s case.
Four marshals from Hall County Fire Services joined numerous insurance investigators involved with the four damaged homes and concluded that the fire will be labeled accidental but undetermined, Cagle said.
The investigators ruled out any suspicious activity and closed the investigation Wednesday that had been ongoing since Dec. 18.
Cagle said the label does not affect how insurance companies will respond to the needs of the homeowners involved.