Furnace problems, alternate heat sources ruled out as cause

Makeshift memorial appears at scene of last week’s deadly fire at the Maple Grove mobile home park in Imlay City. photo by Tom Wearing.

IMLAY CITY — Early reports that a faulty furnace, alternate heat source or space heater may have caused the Tues., Feb. 26 deadly fire at Maple Grove mobile home park proved to be erroneous.

The early morning blaze that began around 3 a.m. in the 2000 block of S. Almont Ave. claimed the lives of three children; a 28-day-old baby later succumbed to injuries from the fire.

Imlay City Police Chief Scott Pike reported Friday afternoon that the Michigan State Police Fire Marshal’s office has yet to determine a definitive cause for the fire.

“They have determined that the furnace was most likely on and in proper working condition,” said Pike. “There was no evidence of any use of space heaters or other alternative heat sources.”

Pike added that the Fire Marshal’s office was able to determine that the fire originated in the living room area.

However, he said the actual cause of the fire (if ever able to be determined) will depend on additional investigation and interviews.

Funerals for the four children who perished are being planned at Muir Brothers Funeral Home in Almont. The young victims include Keith L. Kelley, 6; Keyondre L. Kelley, 5; Keyanna R. Kelley, 3; and Keyairah J. Kelley, 28 days old.

Pike reported that the only surviving child, 19-month-old Keyshawn Kelley, He said that according to family members, the child was transferred to Children’s Hospital of Michigan.

He said that, according to family members, the child was transferred to Detroit Children’s Hospital to receive specialized diagnostics and treatment not available at Hurley Hospital.

Pike added that the children’s parents, father, Keith Lamont Kelley; and mother, Krystal Irene Whitney; are listed in critical and stable conditions, respectively at Hurley Hospital. According to Pike, Whitney, 29, is being treated for severe burns over 21% of her body. Keith Lamont Kelley, 42, is being treated for severe burns, extent unknown, and remains unconscious.

Officials offer update

During a press conference last Wednesday, Feb. 27, Pike announced the death of 28-day-old Keyairah Kelley, who was being treated at the University of Michigan Pediatric Burn Center in Ann Arbor.

The Whitney-Kelley siblings will be remembered at a Celebration of Life, the date of which remains undetermined.

Fire Chief Rick Horton, who also spoke at the conference, 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,” Horton said. “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; and at that time earlier reports of furnace problems and the presence of an alternate heating source had 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.”

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, Feb. 26, 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 be 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/Kelley Family.’

Online update

According to an update on a GoFundMe page (www.gofundme.com/help-with-any-expense) Whitney is “is getting up and moving around, receiving blood transfusions to help clean the carbon monoxide out of her blood.”

Keith Sr. remains in critical condition and is sedated. He is undergoing skin graft surgery. Keyshawn is also receiving blood transfusions and is “sedated but doing well.”

Editor Catherine Minolli contributed to this report.

Tom Wearing started at the Tri-City Times in 1989, covering the Village of Capac as a beat reporter. He later served stints as assistant editor and editor. Today, he covers Imlay City and Almont as a staff writer. He enjoys music and plays drums and sings with various musical groups in the Detroit Metropolitan area.