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Federal investigators say deadly Raytown fire was not intentionally set

A blaze early Sunday at the Somerset Village Apartments in the 9800 block of East 60th Street in Raytown killed Cherri Roberts, 59, and Jeremiah Roberts, 4. Cherri Roberts’ 18-month-old grandson, Ja’Bin, remained in critical condition Friday. Another grandson, 6-year-old Jacob, escaped the fire.
A blaze early Sunday at the Somerset Village Apartments in the 9800 block of East 60th Street in Raytown killed Cherri Roberts, 59, and Jeremiah Roberts, 4. Cherri Roberts’ 18-month-old grandson, Ja’Bin, remained in critical condition Friday. Another grandson, 6-year-old Jacob, escaped the fire. rsugg@kcstar.com

A fast-moving fire that killed a Raytown grandmother and her 4-year-old grandson started in a laundry room trash can and was not intentionally set, federal investigators said Friday.

The blaze early Sunday at the Somerset Village Apartments in the 9800 block of East 60th Street killed Cherri Roberts, 59, and Jeremiah Roberts.

About two dozen agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives concluded their on-site examination of the three-story structure Friday.

“We found nothing to indicate that it was intentionally set,” said John Ham, ATF spokesman. “However, those are preliminary findings, and those could change.”

Cherri Roberts’ 18-month-old grandson, Ja’Bin, remained in critical condition Friday. Another grandson, 6-year-old Jacob, escaped the fire.

Fire crews from Raytown and Kansas City battled the blaze, which was reported at 2:20 a.m. Sunday.

Members of a Raytown fire crew were trapped briefly in the building after their hose burned through. Those firefighters rescued the Roberts family, breaking out a window and handing the 18-month-old boy to a firefighter on a ladder. who had climbed a ladder to reach them.

Other fire crews then helped the trapped crew members and other apartment residents escape.

The laundry room was in the southwest corner of the first floor, and the fire spread to other areas of the building.

“We were unable to determine an ignition source for the trash can,” Ham said. “We can’t recreate what was in that trash can. What was destroyed by fire, we can’t bring it back.”

The ATF’s national response team began their investigation Tuesday. It is the same team that investigated the Oct. 12 fire on Independence Boulevard that killed two firefighters and injured two others.

Investigators looked for the fire’s origin and cause, examined fire debris and conducted about 20 interviews with displaced apartment building residents. They also spoke with neighbors and with firefighters who responded to the blaze. They learned of one resident, a college student, who repeatedly dashed through the building, knocking on the doors of neighbors as the flames and smoke spread.

Jeremiah Roberts died Sunday. Cherri Roberts, who had suffered serious burns, died Monday night, according to the Raytown Fire Department.

There was no timetable for the final report. Investigators may still need to conduct additional interviews and complete lab work on evidence collected at the scene, Ham said.

“We are releasing preliminary results, and when you do that there is the potential they could change,” he said. “The important thing on this is we have nothing at this point to indicate that somebody intentionally set this fire.”

Glenn E. Rice: 816-234-4341, @GRicekcstar

Sitting In the lobby of Children's Mercy Hospital, Grady Lauderdale explained how a safety video may have helped save his nephew during a fire at Somerset Village Apartments (Feb. 8, 2015 -- video by Shane Keyser|skeyser@kcstar.com).

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