NORTHFIELD CENTER TOWNSHIP, OH - The State Fire Marshal says the fire was arson in the house explosion in Northfield Center Township on Monday night.
Josh Hobbs, the Chief of Fire and Explosions Investigations Bureau for the State Fire Marshal said that the determination of arson was based on the on scene investigation. He said his investigators, numbering as many as five at one point, collected evidence which may show proof of an accelerant being used but lab tests would determine if that was definitely the case.
"It's real quick for people to make assumptions or to be presumptuous about what you see, what you smell, what people say - you have to take all those things into account and come up with a hypothesis of what caused the fire," said Hobbs.
He said his agency stepped in because they have more expertise on fatal fires, and it would be an overwhelming case for any local department. He described a difficult situation for his investigators as well.
A family of four was killed; Jeff and Cindy Mather, both 43, and their daughters Ruthie and Allison ages 8 and 12. Mom and the girls were found all huddled together in the front of the home and dad was found in the back near the garage, according to Northfield Center Township Fire Chief Frank Risko.
"They just loved each other and they reached out and they loved the people around them wonderful people were just going to miss them so much," says family friend Ann Humphrey. "It's a loss and it's a hurt and you know you can't deny that that's very true."
"Children are always a little harder on the investigation. We do have to conduct an investigation and not get emotionally involved but it's always tougher to investigate not dismissing anything about anybody else's death," said Hobbs. "It's tougher on an investigator when there are children involved and it's inherently a little more difficult because majority of us have children or have had children that may be grown now so it's very tough."
The blast happened at 7486 Skyhaven Road around 8:47 p.m.
Randy Nickschinski says he was the first neighbor on the scene after the explosion.
"I look out the side window and you the back of this house all on fire," says Nickschinski. He says he and his son immediately ran to the house and broke the front door down, thinking the whole time about saving anyone inside.
"Yelling, 'is anybody here?' Just yelling and going through the house real slow, but you can't see that good, and everything's just cracking and you don't know what's going to happen you don't know if everything's gonna cave in," says Nickschinski. "The noise was just eerie with the cracking, but I just wish I could have saved somebody that's where I feel I wish I could have done something better."
Both fire investigators and investigators with the Summit County Sheriff's Department said that people in the area shouldn't be concerned about an arsonist on the loose.
The Summit County Medical Examiner is working to determine an exact cause of death.
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