GUTHRIE CENTER, Iowa — Investigators say arson was the cause of a house fire in central Iowa that killed two girls and severely injured their uncle.

Law enforcement officials said Wednesday that the girls, who were cousins, have been identified as 16-year-old Shakiah Cockerham and 12-year-old Melanie “Paige” Exline, both of Guthrie Center.

Their uncle, 54 year old William Long III, suffered severe burns to his upper body in the Monday afternoon fire and was flown to an Omaha, Nebraska, hospital, where he remained Wednesday. The girls’ 74-year-old grandmother, Shirley Exline, suffered minor injuries.

The Iowa State Fire Marshal’s Office found arson to be the fire’s cause, and a criminal investigation has begun

Guthrie Center is about 50 miles west of Des Moines.

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