The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

November 25, 2012

Authorities continue probing scene of fatal fire in Wheaton

By Ryan Richardson
Globe Staff Writer

WHEATON, Mo. — Investigators in Barry County continue to look for the cause of an apartment building fire early Thursday in Wheaton that left five dead.

Taylor Lombard, training officer with the Wheaton Fire Department, said the cause remains undetermined, but it is being looked at by officers from the Barry County Sheriff’s Department, the Missouri Division of Fire Safety and the Fire Department.

“There seems to be an alarm system that was in place, and we are looking at it to see if it worked like it should have during the fire,” Lombard said Sunday. “According to the apartment manager, all apartments had smoke alarms, but we do not know the working status in each apartment.”

He said the investigation has pointed toward one of the two apartments where lives were lost.

“One of the second-floor apartments looks to be the point of origin for the fire,” Lombard said.

The Globe’s efforts to contact Bell Management, the property’s management company, were unsuccessful Sunday.

Wheaton firefighters returned to the apartment complex several times over the weekend to prevent any flare-ups from the smoldering rubble.

“That’s usually normal and in this case was expected due to the amount of insulation in the apartment (building),” Lombard said.

A funeral for the first of the five victims will be conducted today. Services for Jonathan “Jay” Gemmecke, 32, will be at 1 p.m. at McQueen Funeral Home in Wheaton.

A service for Molly Doherty, 54, will be at 2 p.m. Thursday at Wheaton United Methodist Church.

A joint memorial for Mary Henning, 43, and her son, Brandon Thurston, 8, will be at 1 p.m. Friday at Solid Rock Baptist Church in Wheaton.

Arrangements for Corey Hasche, 23, remained pending Sunday.

In addition to the casualties, 16 survivors who lived in the apartments were displaced. Clothing, food and other supplies are being distributed at the Wheaton Community Center, and the Red Cross found temporary housing for some of the survivors.

The fire was reported at 3:23 a.m. Thursday at one of two buildings of the Blue Ridge Apartments on South Hill Street. The victims’ bodies were found in two apartments in the building that was destroyed. The second building was not affected by the fire.