Deputy chief: People may have died in fire

WHEELING – There may be at least one human body left inside an East Wheeling house destroyed by a Saturday blaze, and police and fire officials are preparing to look for potential victims by sifting through the rubble.

“The Wheeling Police Department and the Wheeling Fire Department are investigating the possibility that there could be human remains inside the structure,” said Deputy Police Chief Martin Kimball, noting his office has received information that there could be “one, if not two” bodies inside the building at 195 15th St.

He said the investigation will “take time,” as officials will need to dig through the charred remnants of the structure to see if they can find any human remains.

“Perhaps someone did not get out of the building before it collapsed,” Kimball added.

The fire started in the vacant house at 195 15th St. about 2:30 a.m. Saturday before spreading to the Michael Strawn family home at 197 15th St. Officials confirmed that the pet dog that alerted the Strawns to the fire died in the blaze.

The vacant house where the fire began belongs to Wheeling resident Nathan Marshall, who once lived in the home. However, Wheeling Building Codes official Frank Wilson said other people began squatting in the structure once Marshall vacated it.

Members of the Strawn family are believed to be staying with relatives.

Kimball could not confirm that squatters were using the vacant house. However, city officials have long considered much of the 15th Street block to be an area of slum and blight, due to the high number of vacant and dilapidated structures there. Fire Chief Larry Helms has said that buildings in such condition are at an increased risk for fire.