IMLAY CITY — During the second press conference in as many days, Police Chief Scott Pike reported Wednesday, Feb. 27, that a fourth child has died in the aftermath of Tuesday’s tragic fire at Maple Grove mobile home park.
Pike said a 28-day-old girl, Keyairah Kelley, succumbed to her injuries at the University of Michigan Pediatric Burn Center in Ann Arbor.
Three of her siblings, Keith, 6; Keyondre, 5; and Keyanna, 2; had been pronounced deceased at the scene early Tuesday.
Both Pike and Fire Chief Rick Horton provided updates regarding the conditions of their parents—Keith Kelley, 42, and Krystal Whitney, 29—and sibling Keyshawn, 19 months, who remain under care at the Hurley Medical Center. Krystal, who escaped from the building, is listed in stable condition; Keith and Keyshawn remain listed in critical condition.
Horton said a fire investigation by the Michigan State Police Fire Marshal is ongoing and details are being released as they become available.
He noted that when firefighters arrived at the scene around 3:08 a.m., their first efforts were to rescue the children who were known to be inside the trailer.
“Upon arrival, the first thing our firefighters did was to get those babies out and transported to the hospital,” said Horton. “At that point fire suppression was started.”
The fire chief pointed out that because the front door of the mobile home was inaccessible, firefighters going inside had to be lifted up and forced through a broken-out window.
Once inside, they discovered the three children believed to have died from smoke inhalation, and the two younger children in bed with their father.
“They were all in their pajamas and all in their sleeping positions,” said Horton, who said there remain unanswered questions as to the origin and cause of the fire.
He added that it appears the home had no smoke detectors; although earlier reports of furnace problems and the presence of an alternate heating source have yet to be confirmed.
“There were no audible (smoke) detectors going off at the scene when firefighters arrived,” Horton said. “So far, we have no information there were any smoke detectors in the home, and it has not been verified that there was an alternate heat source.”
Chief Pike added that smoke alarms are not always affordable to, nor are they considered a priority for some low-income families.
Both Pike and Horton told reporters they had attended a session at Heritage Church Tuesday evening, during which firefighters, police agencies, EMS crews and others personally affected by the tragedy were able to talk, emote and decompress from the experience they had shared.
“Everybody came out to the stress meeting,” said Horton. “The firefighters, police, EMS, Sheriff’s deputies, even the (on-duty) 911 dispatchers were there. At one point we had seven ambulance crews there.
“We don’t very often have to deal with a situation quite like this,” Horton said. “My guys are really hurting. But we’re all sticking together and we’ll make it through this.
“It’s the worst I’ve ever seen,” he added. “But I’m so proud of my guys, and of all the people who were involved.”
Pike told reporters he had been emotionally shaken when he first saw images of three of the deceased children seated on Santa’s lap in a Facebook post.
“When I saw that photo, I recognized those kids and realized they had been here at the police station,” Pike recalled. “I remember they were wearing paper firefighter hats and that I had read to them that night. Seeing that picture really took me aback.”
Pike reminded that any residents who are struggling emotionally in the aftermath of the tragedy, that help is available to them.
“All of our religious leaders, our churches and schools are making themselves available to people who are having a hard time with this event,” he said.
A fund has been established at Lakestone Bank & Trust. Anyone interested in contributing may make checks payable ‘For the Whitney/Kelly Family.’
For more on this story, fundraising events and updates, check back to www.tricitytimes-online.com and pick up the March 6 print edition of Tri-City Times.