How Did a $6M 'Castle' Just Burn to the Ground?
Annapolis investigators still have more questions than answers
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 21, 2015 8:51 AM CST
Flowers and teddy bears have been left at the front gate of a waterfront mansion that was gutted Monday by a massive fire, Jan. 20, 2015, in Annapolis, Md.   (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
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(Newser) – What started the Monday blaze that consumed a 16,000-square-foot Annapolis mansion that locals called "The Castle"? Why were there apparently no smoke alarms or sprinklers in such a well-appointed home? And, perhaps most distressingly, where are owners Donald and Sandra Pyle and their four grandkids, feared dead after the inferno? Investigators are trying to answer these questions, announcing at a news conference that local police and the ATF are conducting an "active criminal investigation," though so far there's no evidence of foul play, the Washington Post reports. Hampering their efforts is the sheer amount of debris, including the fact that 75% of the structure has fallen into the basement, CNN notes; there's also water in the basement and smaller fires that continue to burn, ABC News reports. The search for victims could take days, investigators say.

A crane is being used to move larger pieces, including steel beams weighing up to 7 tons. Capt. Robert Howarth of the Anne Arundel County FD compared the disaster to a commercial blaze rather than a residential one. "[You're] looking at five standard houses put together," he tells CNN. "There are a lot of businesses that aren't 16,000 square feet." A fire protection expert at the University of Maryland tells the Post that functioning smoke alarms—required in all Maryland residences—likely would have given anyone inside time to get out. As for the Pyles and their grandkids, initial reports indicated they were out of town during the fire, but it's now been determined they're unaccounted for, CNN notes. The school the children attended has sent letters home to parents of classmates relaying they've died, though Howarth says, "We still do not have 100% proof that they are in this house."