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Fire that killed 3 in Wisconsin group home likely caused by cigarette

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FOND DU LAC, Wis. (CBS 58) -- Authorities say a fire that killed three residents of a Wisconsin group home was likely accidental and caused by smoking materials that were improperly discarded.

The Fond du Lac Fire Department released the preliminary findings of its fire investigation on Tuesday.

Three people died in last Thursday's fire at a home for intellectually disabled people in the eastern Wisconsin city of Fond du Lac.

Two other residents escaped from the burning home. Officials have said the home is for adults who can care for themselves, but have cognitive disabilities.

Fond du Lac Division Chief of Fire, Troy Haase, says it was one careless act that led to the deadly blaze.

"We assume that a cigarette was put in a container that was combustible, missed the container or possibly on the chair, and that's what ignited," Haase said. 

The cigarette reportedly belonged to one of the victims who died in the fire. Once it started, the fire spread quickly, including to the attic of the group home for those with disabilities.

The three victims were on the second floor.

They were identified as 24-year-old Taylor Lavallee, 53-year-old Lisa Eastham and 72-year-old Donna Frederick.

"A couple of them were moving towards the door, from the last investigation, it appears two of them were out of the bed," Haase said.

Fire personnel say all three died from smoke inhalation. They can't say for sure if the home had working smoke detectors, because they could have melted due to the high heat.

"Either the detectors failed, they weren't working properly, or just because of the timing and the way the heat traveled through that home, said Haase."

The home reportedly did not have sprinklers, which is not required by the state.

"Even if there would've been sprinklers, it might not have extinguished the fire the way we wanted, because the sprinklers would've been inside the fire -- in this case, the fire is above the detectors, it's in the attic, Haase added"

In total, four people have died in Fond du Lac in the last few months from fires caused by cigarettes. The fire department says this shows people need to be more aware of fire prevention.

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