ME: 4 fire victims died of smoke inhalation

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The victims who died in a house fire Wednesday morning are believed to have died of smoke inhalation, the Kent County medical examiner said.

Wanedia Scales, 35, Xavier Woldeab, 15, Robert Scales, Jr., 14, and Elijah Scales, 10, died after their home on Dawes Avenue SE in Grand Rapids caught fire early Wednesday morning. Firefighters were able to pull the victims out of the home but life-saving measures were unsuccessful.

Kent County Medical Examiner Stephen Cohle said he conducted autopsies on Wanedia Scales and Woldeab. He said the results indicated that the victims were alive when the fire started and  the presence of high levels of carbon monoxide caused him to conclude that they died from smoke inhalation. 

Cohle said he believed that the other two victims died of smoke inhalation as well, though full autopsies were not performed. He said Robert and Elijah both had high levels of carbon monoxide in their systems.

Fire investigators had not released information about their findings about the fire’s cause and origin Thursday. Lt. Bill Smith, a fire investigator for the Grand Rapids Fire Department said the investigation was ongoing and conclusive findings about the fire could take days to release. He said nothing “jumped out” at investigators as suspicious, though he stopped short of ruling out arson as a possibility.

A source with knowledge of the investigation told News 8 that early indications pointed to someone burning trash near the home as a potential cause, though the finding was not yet conclusive.

At the scene Thursday, a steady flow of onlookers and loved ones came to the scene. Some visitors added to a growing makeshift memorial in front of the home. A pair of Wanedia’s longtime friends said they were stunned by the tragedy.

“(Wanedia) just loved passionately without holding anything back and she was so inclusive and just loved everyone,” Kerri Weiss, a longtime friend told News 8. “She always had a good outlook on life and saw the silver lining in things — even things that were hard.”

Family members said they were working to finalize funeral arrangements, though they had not been made public as of Thursday evening.

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