Careless smoking was originally blamed for the London fire that claimed six lives but a 10-moth investigation found that may not be the case.

Almost a year to the day after a house fire killed six Londoners, the cause of the tragedy is now shrouded in mystery, prompting calls by the family of the victims for an inquiry.

Paul Martini, acting assistant chief investigator with Ontario fire marshal’s office, said Thursday from Toronto, a 10-month investigation into the fire at 1076 Margaret St. has shown that careless smoking, cited as the original cause, may not have started the blaze.  The cause is now undetermined.

Family photos of the deceased.

Kitti-Lynne and Ivan Dutot, Ernie Fraser, Kenneth and Lynda Dutot, from left, died in Londons worst house fire on July 28, 1989. Also killed was a family friend Ken Jaques Jr.

PROBE BELIEVED BOTCHED:  The family of five of the dead, who fought for months to have their questions answered, are convinced the original investigation into the July 28, 1989 fire was botched.  They want an inquiry into how the initial investigation was conducted.

Kenneth Dutot, 52, his wife Lynda, 33, their children Ivan, 15, and Kitti-Lynne, 8, Lynda Dutot’s great uncle Ernie Fraser, 82, and family friend Ken Jacques Jr., 10, died in the fire.  The death toll was the highest in London’s history for a single house fire.

“I certainly think they should have an investigation into the (initial) investigation” said Kittie Thompson 29, sister of Lynda Dutot.

“An inquiry would show the mistakes made and hopefully it wouldn’t happen again,” said Gord Dennett, 32, Lynda Dutot’s brother.

Thompson said they plan to see a lawyer to find out what their next move should be.

NOTHING MORE PLANNED:  Martini said there are no plans to look into the original investigation conducted by fire marshal Dan Magda and that a coroner’s inquest will not be called.

“I can’t say our man in the field was wrong,” Martini said.  “There were some circumstances that he wasn’t aware of that we are aware of now.  There have been a number of questions that have been posed to him and, being that I cannot determine anything contrary to what has been said, he will not be reprimanded.”

During his investigation, Martini interviewed more than 30 firefighters, family members and friends, reviewed photographs of the fire scene and conducted a lie detector test with one of the survivors, Ken Jacques Sr.  Marguerite Trealout also survived the fire.

Martini, who did not have access to the house because it was torn down about a month after the fire, said electrical problems, gas leaks and lightning have been ruled out as causes.  Exhibits of materials and debris were examined at the Centre of Forensic Sciences in Toronto. “and no evidence of arson was found” he said.

“The investigation into this fire has reached a dead end,” he said.

Gord Dennett and Kittie Thompson want an inquirey

Gord Dennett and Kittie Thompson want an inquirey into the 1989 investigation of a fire that killed six people in London, including their sister Lynda Dutot. Ed Heal / The London Free Press)

BATTERIES INSTALLED:  Contrary to the original findings, Martini said at least one of the smoke detectors in the house had fresh batteries installed the week of the fire.

“Originally a statement to the investigator had been made indicating that the batteries had been removed from the smoke alarms.  This information had been received from a witness.  However, it could not be substantiated at the scene,” Martini said.

Thompson said she saw her sister install batteries the day of the fire when she dropped in for a cup of coffee.  She also said her sister did not allow smoking in their living room where the fire started.

The investigation was re-opened in October after Thompson and a committee of Margaret Street neighbors lobbied the solicitor-general’s office in Toronto.

It took several letters and a picket at the Toronto office before Martini contacted them.

“It’s generated a lot of anger and frustration in our family because it’s something we’ve had to fight to get.  I don’t think we should have had to do the things we did to get the information we got,” Thompson said.

THE FINDINGS:

  • Some of the information that was uncovered in a new investigation of the July 28, 1989 fatal fire at 1076 Margaret St. London, included:
  • A back door in the kitchen, which was not heavily damaged in the fire, was left open, although the screen door was shut.  The fire marshal could not explain why the flames were not drawn to the outside oxygen source.  A stove burner was still turned on.
  • One of the fire trucks was not working for a short period of time because of a vapor lock in one of the water lines.
  • There were at least three holes in the living room floor caused by the fire where the blaze may have started.  Originally, the investigation stated the blaze was started by a match, cigarette or lighter smoldering in a living room chair.