Deadly Maryland fire began with electrical glitch, Christmas tree

Electrical problem and Christmas tree caused fire that killed couple and 4 grandchildren in Maryland mansion

The Maryland house fire that claimed six lives this month was the result of an electrical malfunction that set fire to a 15-foot-tall Christmas tree at the center of the sprawling mansion, officials said Wednesday.

Anne Arundel County Fire Chief Allan Graves told reporters that an electrical malfunction in one of the home's larger rooms sparked a fire that quickly spread to nearby furniture and the Christmas tree, feeding the blaze that ultimately killed Donald and Sandra Pyle and four of their grandchildren Jan. 19.

“The thoughts and prayers of an entire county go out to the Pyle and Boone families," County Executive Steven Schuh said.

The area where the fire started, a massive alcove with 19-foot-high ceilings known as the great room, was connected to the areas of the home where the victims were sleeping when the blaze began, according to Bill McMullan, special agent in charge of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives' Baltimore office.

Capt. Russ Davies, spokesman for the the county Fire Department, said the chain of events that led to the fire erupted within "two to three minutes." 

Investigators believe the large tree was the main combustible element that drove the blaze, Davies said.

Donald Pyle, 56, was the chief operating officer of Virginia-based computer company Science Logic. His wife, Sandra, 63, and their grandchildren Alexis, 8, Kaitlyn, 7, Charlotte, 8, and Wesley Boone, 6, were also killed in the blaze.

The four-alarm fire ripped through the home early on the morning of Jan. 19, causing the roof and top two floors of the 16,000-square-foot mansion to collapse onto the rest of the structure.

The sprawling design of the Pyles' home, as well as the presence of several heavy steel beams, made investigators' search of the debris incredibly difficult, Davies said in previous interviews with the Los Angeles Times. 

Fire officials were able to recover the bodies of all six victims during a five-day search. The final victim was recovered Monday, officials said.

Firefighters became aware of the blaze after an alarm system in the home was tripped, Davies said. Several 911 calls were made, but none came from within the house.

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