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Mourners Struggle With Reality At Wake For Carmel Family Killed In House Fire

Officials: Fast-Burning Materials A Contributing Factor In Deadly Blaze
The remains of the Sullivan home in Carmel, N.Y., destroyed earlier this year by fire. (credit: CBS 2)

The remains of the Sullivan home in Carmel, N.Y., destroyed earlier this year by fire. (credit: CBS 2)

CARMEL, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) – A two-day wake started Thursday for four members of the same family that died in a horrible house fire on Tuesday morning.

Investigators are still unsure of the cause even as they questioned the only survivor of the blaze, reported CBS 2’s Lou Young.

1010 WINS’ Al Jones Reports From The Wake

John Sullivan accepted condolences outside the Balsamo-Cordovano Funeral Home. Inside, four urns contained the ashes of his son, daughter-in-law and two grand daughters. The bodies were cremated after being removed from the rubble of their home.

No one knew how to react.

“It’s the toughest thing ever. I’ve been to tons of wakes and funerals and I’m at the point now where I’m speechless,” mourner Geri Munnick said.

Young people were having the toughest time, especially those who knew 18-year-old Meaghan and 15 year-old Mairead Sullivan.

“She was a really good friend of mine and I’ve never had a friend die,” Christine Zetik said.

Larchmont Police sent an honor guard because Thomas Sullivan was a captain in the department. The Westchester County village where he worked is peppered with posters saluting him.

“We all feel sick about it. I mean their whole family and then their son …,” Larchmont resident Jodie Kahn said.

Their son, Thomas Jr., was not there for the start of the wake. He was questioned by police for three and a half hours on Wednesday.

There is no evidence of a crime, but police have not yet eliminated the possibility, although the implication seems too awful to contemplate.

As far as Thursday was concerned, it was all about remembering the family.

“Donna was a wonderful, wonderful mother. The girls were just very full of joy. A very close, very close family. Young Tommy loved his sisters very much,” Putnam County Executive Mary Ellen Odell said.

Investigators removed all the samples they said they’ll need from what is still a crime scene. They said they’ll meet early next week to match the lab results with what witnesses have told them.

Until then, it is a time for mourning.

Although those lab test results are still pending, a special dog brought in to sniff out accelerants found no obvious trace of arson at the scene, police said.

Authorities said the Sullivan home had eight wired smoke detectors, but it’s unclear if they were working.

Investigators are now are looking closely at the construction of the home, which was made of newer, fast-burning materials, something Odell said was a contributing factor in the blaze.

“Tommy Sullivan had no chance to get his family out and that’s the shame of this,” she said.

“It’s all glue and things aren’t nailed anymore. The particle board instead of full beams,” said Carmel Fire Chief Robert Lipton “This is what we see now with light-weight construction, fires like this. They’re dangerous.”

Lipton went door-to-door Wednesday offering grief counseling and warned other residents of the neighborhood about the way their homes are built.

“This whole neighborhood was built with light construction so they can burn just as quickly as this one here did,” he said.

Rockland Fire Coordinator Gordon Wren, agreed.

“These type of construction materials are extremely dangerous,” he said. “Fire service has been studying them for years.”

WCBS 880’s Sean Adams reports

Experts said older, more traditional homes with conventional lumber beams hold out longer, giving firefighters a chance to make an interior search and rescue.

But despite the danger, the newer construction is up to code.

The Putnam County coroner said all four died of smoke inhalation.

The wake for the Sullivan family was to continue Thursday night from 7-9 p.m. and then on Friday from 2-4 p.m. and 7-9 p.m. at the Balsamo-Cordovano Funeral Home in Carmel.

The funeral is Saturday at St. James the Apostle Church in Carmel at 9 a.m.

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