Burned body found in Madera -- two months after house fire

MADERA — Burned human remains were discovered inside a heavily scorched mobile home in Parksdale this week.

What makes the case so bizarre is that fact that firefighters extinguished the blaze at the residence more than two months ago. And officials with the Cal Fire Madera-Mariposa-Merced Unit admit they didn’t see the body while fighting the fire on March 5.

A Madera County sheriff’s deputy discovered the skeletal remains while walking through the mobile home at 28575 Avenue 13¼ Tuesday. The deputy visited the mobile home following up on a May 12 missing persons report filed by the family of Edward Cripe, said sheriff’s spokeswoman Erica Stuart.

Cripe, 73, was believed to be the property owner and lone resident. Cripe’s sister filed the missing person report, not knowing whether he had moved or was living in an assisted living facility, Stuart said. The deputy had exhausted all other leads.

DNA tests on the body will be needed to determine whether it’s Cripe because the body was burned beyond recognition. Those results may not be ready for at least two weeks, Stuart said.

Karen Guillemin, spokeswoman for the Cal Fire Madera-Mariposa Unit, said the cause of the fire has not been determined — although it may have been started by a cigarette.

Foul play is not believed to be a factor in the fire, she said.

When asked whether firefighters could have missed seeing a body during the fire, Guillemin said a thermal imaging camera was used during the blaze — and there was no indication a body was inside.

Guillemin said firefighters didn’t see the skeletal remains after the fire was extinguished because it was probably covered in debris and was not clearly visible.

She said fire officials believe someone entered the home after the fire and moved the debris — revealing the skeletal remains.

“If we had found there was someone in there, we would have made every effort to rescue that person,” Guillemin said. “The saving of life is our number one priority.”

Wayne Noel, one of Cripe’s neighbors, told The Fresno Bee that he informed firefighters that someone might be inside the mobile home, saying the man was losing his vision and often pushed a shopping cart around.

Firefighters tried to enter the blazing mobile home and fell through the floor, which was collapsing along with the roof, Guillemin said. “We could not enter the mobile home so we suppressed the fire from the exterior,” she said. “We followed procedure for firefighting at the time.”

Guillemin said it is not the fire department’s responsibility to remove debris or clean up the house after the fire. “We did our due diligence and we left,” she said.

Firefighters have visited Cripe’s residence on more than one occasion, having burned previously on March 13 last year. The cause of that fire was determined to be from a cigarette.

Another fire occurred on Aug. 2. After that fire, the resident had moved back into the partially burned mobile home without making the recommended repairs, Guillemin said.

Reporter Victor A. Patton can be reached at (209) 385-2431 or vpatton@mercedsun-star.com.