EXCLUSIVE: DOJ closes investigation on fatal house fire in Oconto classified as “undetermined”

Oconto Fire Chief Josh Bostedt says freezing weather presented challenges in collecting evidence.
Published: Sep. 14, 2020 at 5:05 PM CDT
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OCONTO, Wis. (WBAY) - A spokesperson for the Wisconsin Department of Justice (DOJ) confirms with Action 2 News state investigators have closed the case on a deadly Oconto house fire that happened in January.

Investigators say the cause of the fire that killed four people is “undetermined.”

As we reported, firefighters first received calls about house fire on Fabry Street at around 3 a.m. on January 17. First responders later found the bodies of Katherine DeCoursin, 35, and her three children ages 11 to 15 inside of the home.

“Oconto is a small town, and usually, you know a lot of people by name,” said Chief Josh Bostedt with the Oconto Fire Department.

Bostedt served as the deputy chief of the department and was at home off-duty when he got the call about a house fire on Fabry Street.

“Upon arrival, there was already smoke and flames shooting through the exterior of this house,” said Bostedt. “The first-in crews attempted to make an entry but were unable to.”

This fire goes down as the worst in Oconto history.

The State Fire Marshal immediately started an investigation in January with the help of the Oconto Fire Department and Oconto Police Department as needed.

“The three entities worked hand-in-hand during that whole time trying to uncover any evidence that may show what might have caused the fire,” said Bostedt.

Freezing weather made that a challenge. Bostedt says water used to put out the flames froze items inside of the home that might have contained evidence. Investigators later put tarp around the house and tried to thaw its contents with heaters to gather information, but ultimately closed the case unable to determine how it started.

“There might be maybe multiple indicators as to what might have caused it, but it just couldn’t get ruled out to the one significant thing,” said Bostedt.

Today, the lot where the house once stood sits empty. A small cross put out after the fire is still staked in the ground, and the siding on the garage is still warped from the heat.

“No fire investigator likes to leave a fire classified as undetermined,” said Bostedt.

The fire chief tells Action 2 News the goal of any fire investigation is to find closure but admits that sometimes there is just too much damage or not enough evidence.

Bostedt hopes people will use the tragedy as a reminder about the importance of fire safety: “The importance of smoke alarms at home that are working. The importance of having your exit doors all available and useable, and the importance of having a fire safety plan.”

He says that stuff might have all been in place in this scenario calling it “an unfortunate incident that didn’t turn out in a positive way.”

Action 2 News does have a request in with the DOJ for records related to this case and will continue to provide updates.

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