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Thursday, January 29, 2015

What Caused The Fatal Fire At The Pyle Mansion in Annapolis?

     Donald Pyle and his wife Sandra lived on Childs Point Road in Annapolis, Maryland in a 16,000 square-foot waterfront mansion. The massive house, built on an eight-acre tract of land, featured seven bedrooms and as many bathrooms. Mr. Pyle, the chief operating officer of ScienceLogic, an information technology company located in Reston, Virginia, had grown up in Baltimore County north of the city. The 55-year-old had attended Delaney High School and graduated from the University of Delaware. Prior to accepting the position at ScienceLogic, Donald Pyle had been the chief executive of IT companies in Pittsburgh and Annapolis.

     At three-thirty in the morning of Monday January 19, 2015, firefighters responded to what turned out to be a four-alarm fire at the Pyle mansion, a massive house referred to by neighbors as "The Castle." By the time 85 firefighters brought the blaze under control at seven that morning, the $6 million dwelling had been reduced to rubble in what had been an extremely hot, fast-moving fire.

     Although rescue personnel were unable to immediately sort through the debris due to heat and unstable structural conditions, investigators believed Mr. and Mrs. Pyle and their four visiting grandchildren, all uncounted for, had died in the fire.

     The search for bodies and evidence of the fire's cause and origin--traces of accelerants, multiple points of origin, and abnormal burn patterns--was conducted by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and investigators with the Maryland State Fire Marshal's Office. Bomb and arson dogs as well as cadaver canines augmented the fire scene inquiry.

     Construction of the mansion had been completed in 2005 before the state mandated home sprinkler systems. Had it been otherwise, the fire damage might have been minimal.

     On Wednesday evening January 21, 2015, fire investigators accompanied by a cadaver dog located the bodies of two people. Preliminary reports indicated the remains belonged to Mr. and Mrs. Pyle. The charred bodies were sent to the Maryland State Medical Examiner's Office for identification and autopsy. Fire investigators wanted to know, among other things, if the couple had been alive at the time of the fire.

     According to media reports, there had been no police activity at the residence prior to the fire. Moreover, there was no record of lawsuits, financial trouble, or marital discord associated with the family.

     The four missing children, Wes 6, Charlotte 8, Katie 7, and Lexi 8, were the offspring of Mrs. Pyle's two sons from a previous marriage. On Thursday January 22, searchers found two more bodies. The next day the authorities recovered the remains of another child. Searchers located the sixth and final body on Monday, January 26.

     The exterior of the Pyle mansion was built of stone in the tradition of a castle. Stone was used in the construction of the dwelling's interior as well. This makes the fast development of the inferno, the extreme heat, and the total destruction of the structure hard to explain in the context of an accidental fire. What was in the house that could fuel such a destructive fire? How did it start?  The fact that six people died in the fire makes the cause and origin determination all the more important. The conditions of the bodies might offer clues as to whether foul play was involved.  

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