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That night – Report gives new clues about fire

Avondale Estates

That night – Report gives new clues about fire

An Avondale Estates home was completely destroyed during an April 12 fire. Photo by Dan Whisenhunt
An Avondale Estates home was completely destroyed during an April 12 fire. Photo by: Dan Whisenhunt

An Avondale Estates home was completely destroyed during an April 12 fire. Photo by: Dan Whisenhunt

A report released by the city of Avondale Estates points to a possible cause of an April 12 fire on Lakeshore Drive that claimed the lives of Tami Willadsen 43, and her daughter, Jess, 10.

The fire also badly injured the Willadsens’ son, Jack, 5. Dave Willadsen, the father, received minor injuries.

The report filed by Avondale Estates police officers said one of the witnesses told them candles may have been left burning on the front porch of the home.

“I was approached by (the witness) who stated he had been in a back room of the residence with several others when the fire suddenly started from the front of the house and quickly spread to the rear,” the report says. “He and several others were able to pull the child from the residence through a broken window, but (the witness) was too shaken up to provide clearer details. (The witness) did state that some candles had possibly been left lit on the front porch.”

The DeKalb County Fire Department is investigating the cause and the investigation hasn’t concluded. A reporter first heard about the possibility of candles igniting the blaze a week ago, and asked DeKalb County Fire Capt. Eric Jackson about it.

On April 17, Jackson said, “Our investigators have heard that but have not made a determination on the cause of the fire as of yet. That information is one of a couple of versions that have been spoken of but again, nothing has been determined yet.”

A reporter reached out to friends of the family and provided them with a copy of the police report. This story will be updated if those messages are returned.

The report describes a chaotic scene. In addition to incinerating the Willadsens’ home, the fire also damaged two nearby homes.

At one point, a police officer threatened to arrest three men at the scene after the officer ordered the evacuation of nearby houses on Stratford Road.

“(House) Number 74 was unoccupied and shortly caught fire, while the house to the north did not catch fire, but suffered heat damage,” the officer wrote. “As I returned to crowd control, I heard several firefighters yell at three men who were attempting to walk to the rear of House 74, which was still on fire and had sparks coming from the electrical box. Despite being told to stop several times by the firefighters, the males continued. I ordered them to stop and go across the street for their safety, but they refused, stating that they lived on Stratford Road and had to get to their houses. I told them to either walk down the block or cut through another yard but they continued to refuse and wished to argue. I finally told them they could either leave as instructed or go to jail, at which point they left going south.”

Caring neighbors ran to the Willadsens’ aid. By the time the firefighters arrived at the scene, the house was fully involved making it impossible to attempt a rescue of Tami and Jess.

One witness told police he was with a group of friends on Stratford Road when they saw the fire coming from Lakeshore. The witness ran over to help. When this witness arrived, Dave and Jack were in the backyard. The neighbor helped to move them near the lake across the street, where the firefighters found them. They soon transported Jack to Grady Hospital, where his condition has continued to improve.