New Year’s Day generally is a happy occasion. “We’re supposed to be celebrating today,” a somber Sheriff Jerry Suits of Pope County said. “Instead, we are still trying to identify three victims” after fire destroyed a mobile home in the Hamletsburg community in southern Pope County .
“It’s a sad day,” he said.
“We are asking prayers for the victims’ family members,” Suits said Sunday afternoon.
Coroner Mark Aly, who pronounced the victims dead at the scene, said they are believed to be three adults, or possibly teens. Autopsies were scheduled to be performed Monday afternoon.
“There’s just not much I can say at this point,” Aly added. “At this point we just really don’t know.”
Though children’s toys and a swing set were in the yard, Aly said, “I don’t believe any children were there at the time of the fire.”
“The 911 calls began about 3 a.m.,” the sheriff said. The Pope County Rural Fire Department was called and found the trailer fully engulfed in flames.
“In a matter of minutes, I was told one body had been observed,” Suits said. Two other bodies were found later. Also responding, in addition to the sheriff’s department, were the Massac County Fire Department, Pope County Coroner’s Office, Illinois State Police and the Illinois Fire Marshal’s Office.
Suits said he and firefighters had been at the fire scene at least seven hours on Sunday.
Cause of the fire is still undetermined at this point, the sheriff said. “We don’t know the ages or identifications of the victims yet,” he added.
He said the mobile home “was not being rented,” but was not vacant. He declined to comment further on the ownership of the property, as the investigation continues. The trailer and two vehicles that were parked nearby were destroyed by the fire, but two grain bins and a propane tank weren’t damaged.
The sheriff’s and coroner’s offices and the state fire marshal’s office are conducting the investigation at this point, Suits said. “We’ve been in contact with the Illinois State Police but they are not yet involved in the investigation,” he said.
Suits said as news of the fire spread through the county, the sheriff’s office received numerous calls from “anyone who can’t account for family members.” And because some people stay over after a New Year’s Eve party rather than driving after drinking, there were more than a few people whose families hadn’t located them by Sunday afternoon.