Officials investigating cabin fire
Human remains found in the ashes
Marshall Helmberger

REGIONAL - Law enforcement officials are continuing to investigate an incident that left a remote hunting cabin burned to the ground and human remains in the ashes.

The cabin, located near the junction of Tarkman Road and Wiseman Road in Vermilion Lake Township, is owned by long-time resident Jerry Yernatich, but is also used by his son Robbie, who first reported the burned cabin on Saturday evening, Aug. 17, after he said he found the charred remains of a body in the ashes.

Yernatich told investigators that he had discovered the burned cabin on Saturday morning, but did not report the incident until approximately 12 hours later.

The St. Louis County Sheriff’s office has brought in the State Fire Marshal and the St. Louis County Medical Examiner to help determine the cause of the fire and the cause of death for the as-yet unidentified remains. Sheriff’s investigator Sgt. James McKenzie said it may take DNA analysis to positively identify the badly burned body, which he said was reduced to bones. Numerous postings on Facebook have circulated since Sunday identifying the individual killed in the fire, but the Timberjay only identifies the names of deceased individuals when provided by official sources.

When asked how DNA would be helpful, given that the DNA of most Americans is not in a law enforcement database, McKenzie said authorities believe the deceased person may have been “in the system.” “That’s why we think the DNA might work,” he said.

While many unanswered questions remain about the incident, McKenzie said the sheriff’s office has “some ideas and is following some leads.”

Exactly when the cabin might have burned is one of the remaining questions. While the fire was recent, it appeared to be fully out by the time it was reported on Saturday. A township resident told the Timberjay that she recalls seeing thick black smoke in the area at about 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday evening, Aug. 13, but that the smoke eventually dissipated and she didn’t report it to authorities.

The Timberjay did contact the St. Louis County Medical Examiners office and the State Fire Marshal for this report, but neither agency responded as of presstime.

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