Assistant prosecutor says arson is likely cause of fire that killed 2 women

SAGINAW (WJRT) - (02/22/18) - Arson likely was the cause of a deadly fire in Saginaw earlier this month that claimed the life of two women.

According to Saginaw County Assistant Prosecutor Mark Gaertner, all signs point to arson, but additional testing is being done to rule out an electrical cause.

Gaertner said Michigan State Police fire investigators are taking electrical samples gathered at the home to an investigator who specializes in this type of evidence collection.

Gaertner expects the results back soon. From there, he expects his team and Michigan State Police detectives to meet early next week with the intent of issuing charges.

A mother and daughter died as a result of the Feb. 12 fire in the 1700 block of Wood Street.

Adair Smithpeters, 71, died two days after the fire. Her daughter, 41-year-old Melissa Shook, died shortly after Saginaw firefighters pulled her from the home on the city's west side.

They lived with Smithpeters' 38-year-old son in the rental home. He was not hurt in the fire.

A Saginaw city inspector had condemned the home hours before it caught fire.

John Stemple, Saginaw's director of neighborhood services and inspections, has said there was trash and other debris throughout the home.

"If you continue to throw trash on the floor pretty soon it gets deep and it causes issues. It was everywhere in the house, so that was the big thing which causes concern for us," Stemple said. "It causes a huge fire load, which causes the time to get out of the house, should there be a fire -- it reduces that time significantly."

The home was first inspected on Feb. 8. A city inspector found several violations.

The tenants were given four days to make the home safe and livable.

"It was a short time frame because we needed that corrected, 'cause it was higher on the hazard, hazard list," Stemple said.

When the city inspector returned on Feb. 12 the people who live there wouldn't let him back inside. But he could see there hadn't been an attempt to clean up what the city considered a fire hazard.

The second inspection took place around 3 p.m. and the 38-year-old man was told he had until 5 p.m. to leave.

At the time the man told the city inspector he was leaving for Detroit.

Shortly after 10 p.m. the house was on fire.

"Certainly in this case, this demonstrates the reason why we do some of those things," Stemple said on Feb. 14. "The message comes out sometimes as the city is being mean by throwing these people out on the curb. We don't like to throw people out of their houses and cause turmoil in their life, but I can't go to bed at night knowing someone's sleeping in a dwelling that could cause them to lose their life."

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