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UPDATE: GBI investigates 'suspicious' deaths after house fire

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation began an investigation this afternoon into the deaths of two people found Tuesday morning in a house destroyed by fire in Chattahoochee County.

GBI spokesman Mike Fordham said the agency launched the probe after "suspicious deaths were discovered" during an autopsy at the GBI lab, though he could not say what aroused the suspicion. A cause of death has not been determined for either victim, and Fordham said the bodies were burned so badly they will need to be identified through the use of dental records.

Though identification was not official, the bodies appear to be those of Elaine and Edward Baker, a retired couple who lived on the property near family, said Johnny Floyd Jr., chief of the Cusseta-Chattahoochee County Volunteer Fire Department.

Before the GBI began its investigation, Floyd said investigators had all but ruled out foul play, and thought a bolt of lightning could have been to blame for the blaze, which began before 3 a.m. at a cinder-block house at 317 Firetower Road. A family member who spotted flames "shooting as high as the trees" called the authorities about 2:51 a.m.

Firefighters arrived on the scene 8 minutes later and began extinguishing the fire, Floyd said, a task that took at least half an hour.

“When we got there, the structure was totally involved," he said. "The roof was completely gone on the house.”

Based on the location of the bodies, Floyd said investigators determined the victims apparently tried to escape the burning house but were "overcome by smoke."

Chattahoochee County Coroner Travis Hancock pronounced them dead at 5:15 a.m. He said the victims appeared to be a 67-year-old woman and a 68-year-old man. He said he felt confident of their identities, but he declined to release the names pending final verification.

Floyd said family members of the Bakers were devastated by the fire.

"They're a tight-knit family, and family members live all on the same piece of property," he said. "A few of them were there and it was really rough on them."

Fordham said the GBI was asked by the Chattahoochee County Sheriff's Office to investigate the deaths based upon the preliminary autopsy findings. Sheriff Glynn Cooper didn't return calls seeking comment.

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