IMLAY CITY, Mich. – Three children were killed and four other people were critically injured in an Imlay City mobile home fire that burned "immensely fast" with "extreme heat," according to police.
Imlay City police Chief Scott Pike said officers were called around 3:05 a.m. Tuesday to a fire at a mobile home in the 2000 block of Elmont Street. The home is inside the Maple Grove Communities neighborhood.
3 hurt, 4 injured
When police arrived, they found a the mother, Krystal Whitney, 29, outside the home screaming hysterically that her family was still inside, Pike said.
First responders said the front half of the trailer was already fully engulfed, so nobody could get inside.
"How do you describe that?" Pike said. "Can you imagine yourself, as a mother, standing outside a burning building and knowing your family's in there? I don't know that I could adequately give you a description of what that would be like. It would just be the most horrifying thing I could think of, being a father and not being able to get in and rescue my children, so I couldn't even fathom to describe what she was going through."
Firefighters arrived at the scene, got into the home and recovered six people. Pike said 3-year-old Keyanna Kelly, 5-year-old Keyondre Kelly and 6-year-old Keith Kelly were pronounced dead.
"These children had friends in schools and they know each other," Pike said. "Having somebody injured is enough, but to lose three children and potentially lose several other people is devastating to our community."
A 1-month-old girl, Keyairah Kelly; an 18-month-old boy, Keyshawn Kelly; and their 42-year-old father, Keith Kelly Sr.; all had serious injuries from burns and smoke inhalation, Pike said. The severity of their burns and the exact extent of their injuries is not known, police said.
Krystal Whitney and Keith Kelley Sr. are married, officials said.
The three children who were killed in the fire were taken to Lapeer McLaren Hospital. Keyshawn Kelly and his parents are at Hurley Medical Center in Flint. Keyairah Kelly was taken to the University of Michigan Hospital pediatric burn unit.
Officials said the four survivors are listed in critical condition.
"I can tell you from experience, nothing can prepare you for picking up a dead child," Pike said. "Our officers had to carry one of the children to the ambulance. The firefighters were trying to resuscitate them, so I don't know how you can ever rationalize that with yourself, especially if you're a parent."
Trailer was 'tinderbox'
Pike said when the first officer arrived at the scene, the fire was already burning so hard she burned her hand bumping against the trailer while helping Krystal Whitney.
"It was a tinderbox, there's no doubt about it," Pike said. "It burned immensely fast, and it was very extreme heat."
He said police take the first officer's mental health very seriously, so there will be help offered so she can cope with what she saw.
"I've got 31 years of experience behind me to process it a little bit," Pike said. "My officer who did (see the victims), we're going to provide appropriate counseling for her.
"Trying to process the death of an infant, basically, any child, it's impossible. You can never walk away from that unscathed."
Cause of fire
Authorities aren't sure what caused the fire, but the furnace in the mobile home wasn't working, so they believe it was a heating-related issue. Pike said the fire might have been started by a space heater or something compensating for the lack of a heater.
This is the worst time of year for these types of fires because people try to heat their homes even if they don't have the money to pay for a furnace, Pike said.
"Three children lost their lives in something that most likely could have been prevented," Pike said.
The Michigan State Police Fire Marshal's Office is handing the fire investigation, according to Pike.
Pike said Imlay City is a community of about 3,500 people, so everybody knows everybody. He said this type of tragedy affects everyone.
"All I ask is prayers for those that are deceased and those that are still struggling to survive," Pike said.
He said there has been an outpouring of people offering to help. Pike said his resource officer is working with community groups to figure out how to channel the funds and resources people are offering into a way to help the family.
You can watch Nick Monacelli's noon report below.
You can watch Pike's full news conference below.