BRINNON — Officials are calling the explosion that left a family of five from Monroe dead in Brinnon early Sunday morning a “tragic accident.”
Jefferson County Prosecutor and Coroner Mike Haas identified the parents as Jenny L. Drake and Jerry A. Drake, both 42. They were at the cabin with their their three children, ages 11, 8 and 2.
Brinnon Fire Chief Tim Manly told reporters Monday afternoon the cause of the fire has not yet been determined and that the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is still investigating the cause of the fire.
“Everybody is in shock right now,” Manly said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of the victims of this.”
He said autopsies would be performed at the King County Medical Examiner’s office today and that the investigation is ongoing.
“There’s no reason to suspect foul play at this time, but we need to make sure we do a thorough job to make sure nothing improper occurred and to the extent we can, to figure out what happened so we can prevent this type of tragedy from occurring in the future,” Haas said.
Manly said the family regularly vacationed at the 250-square-foot cabin on the 600 block of Salmon Street in Brinnon and were known in the neighborhood.
Some media outlets initially reported that the family was not allowed on the property, though that was incorrect, Manly and neighbors said.
The cabin belonged to the family, but officials are aware of some confusion about the physical address of the property. The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office also addressed the discrepancy.
Duane and Carleen Nelson, who own the cabin next door, said it was emotional to learn their neighbors had died that way. The Nelsons, who own a farm in Spanaway, learned of the fire when media outlets reported that it was their cabin that burned.
Duane said there was some sense of relief that it wasn’t their cabin, “but once we saw our neighbors’ [cabin] our hearts dropped again knowing that the parents and kids are deceased,” he said. “It’s tough.”
They said they weren’t on a first-name basis with the family, but would greet them when they saw them on weekends.
The Nelsons described the neighborhood as tight-knit and said it’s a place to get away and “just be a family.”
ATF Spokesperson Jason Chudy said the agency never comments on active investigations, but called this case a priority.
“Because there were a number of deaths, it’s a priority for us, but I can’t say when [the investigation] will be done,” Chudy said.
He referred all questions to Jefferson County Undersheriff Art Frank, who did not return phone calls Monday.
“The follow-up will likely take weeks to complete and determine what the cause of this tragedy is,” Frank said in an email to reporters.
Manly said neighbors reporting the fire at about 1 a.m. Sunday said they heard an explosion and that they saw flames shooting into the air.
A neighbor reported hearing a hissing noise before an explosion, Manly said. Investigators found a blown five-gallon propane tank, but it wasn’t clear whether the fire was caused by the tank.
When firefighters arrived, they discovered the fully engulfed cabin and took a defensive posture.
During overhaul firefighters found the bodies of one adult and one child and immediately contacted the Washington State Crime Lab and ATF.
The bodies of two children and the other parent were found later in the day when investigators returned to the site, he said.
It was determined that the fire is not suspicious, but because of the seriousness of the incident Manly said he wanted to get state and federal officials involved.
“The suspicion is always in the back of our mind, but we need to make sure,” he said.
Manly said the news has hit the community hard and that he is thankful for the support the community has given to its first responders and the concern he has seen for the victims.
Fire departments that responded include the Brinnon Fire Department, Quilcene Fire Rescue, East Jefferson Fire-Rescue, Discovery Bay Fire Rescue, Port Ludlow Fire Rescue and a unit from Mason County.
Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at [email protected].