Undersheriff: Investigators Cannot Determine Cause of Deadly Motor Home Fire

Eight-year-old girl died of smoke inhalation and burns, autopsy says

By Molly Priddy
The scene of the fire, 425 Daley Lane near Foys Lake, is pictured Oct. 6, 2015. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

The investigation is complete into the Oct. 1 motor home fire that killed an 8-year-old Kalispell girl, with the cause of death cited as smoke inhalation and “thermal injuries” from the fire.

According to Flathead County Undersheriff Dave Leib, the autopsy on Autumn Hawk showed that she died from breathing too much smoke and from burns. Leib said there is also a toxicology screening report forthcoming.

At about 10 a.m. on Oct. 1, Flathead County Dispatch received a report of explosions and fire at the motor home, located west of Kalispell at 425 Daley Ln., near Foys Lake. Responding fire crews found the motor home fully engulfed in flames.

Because it burned so hot and so fast, Leib said the team investigating the fire could not find a cause.

“We don’t have a cause,” Leib said in an interview on Oct. 8. “In a fire like this where it burns so extremely hot… there’s nothing of evidentiary value left.”

Smith Valley Fire Chief DC Haas said motor home fires can be tricky when it comes to identifying a single cause, because there are so many sources of fuel involved. Leib said along with the motor home fuels, there were also bottles of white fuel used for camping stoves that had exploded in the blaze.

The girl’s parents made it out of the fire alive, and were treated for injuries. Hawk’s body was found outside of the trailer, near the front door.

Leib said at this point the investigation into the fire is essentially complete, and any potential charges against anyone involved would have to come from a different investigation.

He said the girl’s parents are “a little uncertain as to exactly how the fire started,” and the mother said she was cooking on the stove and Hawk was in the top bunk in the motor home.

A group of upset neighbors who live near the fire scene will meet with the Flathead County Attorney on Tuesday, Oct. 13 to discuss the investigation and express their concerns about the living situation on Daley Lane.

The Kalispell office of the Child and Family Services Division referred questions about the family to the state Department of Public Health and Human Services. Spokesman Jon Ebelt said the department cannot comment on the situation due to privacy laws.

Another group of residents is planning a candlelight vigil for Hawk on Friday, Oct. 9, at the Peterson Elementary School playground at 7:30 p.m.