IMLAY CITY, Mich. – Investigators in Imlay City said the mobile home fire that killed four children and left three other people injured was not caused by an alternate heat source such as a space heater. They said the furnace was likely on and in proper working condition.
"There was no evidence of any use of space heaters or other alternative heat sources," Imlay City police said in a release. "They were able to determine the fire originated in the living room area."
The cause of the fire has not been determined. Officials are continuing to investigate.
4 dead, 3 in hospital
Imlay City Police Chief Scott Pike said Keith Kelley, 6, Keyondre Kelley, 5, and Keyanna Kelley, 3, died Tuesday morning as a result of smoke inhalation. Keyairah Kelley, who was 28 days old, died Tuesday night as a result of smoke inhalation, officials said.
The children's parents, Krystal Whitney, 29, Keith Kelley Sr., 42, and 18-month-old Keyshawn Kelley are still at Hurley Medical Center in Flint. Whitner is stable and Keith Kelley Sr. and Keyshawn Kelley are in critical condition, Pike said.
"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."
How firefighters got victims out of trailer
Imlay City Fire Chief Rick Horton said firefighters from his department and two other departments responded to the fire, which happened around 3:05 a.m. Tuesday in the 2000 block of Elmont Street.
When firefighters arrived, the trailer was already engulfed in flames, Horton said. He said the front door was not accessible because of the flames, and the back door was blocked by a stack of items.
"The window was automatically immediately taken out and they basically took the first crews and basically threw them in there," Horton said.
He said the firefighters didn't wait for ladders because Whitney, who was outside screaming hysterically when officials arrived, told them her children were still inside the trailer.
Firefighters hoisted each other up to get through the bedroom window, which was toward the back of the trailer, Horton said.
In the back bedroom, firefighters found Keyondre Kelley and Keyanna Kelley in bed with their father, and the two babies, Keyairah Kelley and Keyshawn Kelley, in some types of cribs in the same room. There was no fire in the back of the trailer at that point, but there was intense heat and smoke, Horton said.
Keith Kelley Jr. was in a bedroom at the front of the trailer, by where the flames were most intense, Horton said.
All six victims were taken out through the back bedroom window by firefighters, who handed them to other firefighters outside, according to authorities.
Horton said the children were in pajamas and he believes the victims were sleeping at the time of the fire.
"This is one of the most tragic things I've seen in my career, let alone the firefighters, the new guys," Horton said.
The four children who died had injuries from smoke inhalation, more so than burns, officials said.
Investigators haven't found smoke detectors
State police are in charge of the investigation into the cause of the fire, and the fire inspector told Local 4 no smoke detectors have been found.
Horton said he's still not sure if there were any smoke alarms in the trailer.
"As of right now, there were no audible detectors going off," Horton said. "We haven't seen any, but the people we've talked to, there was no audible detectors going off. We're not sure if they were in the house or if they were working."
Pike said it's common for low-income residents not to have smoke detectors because it's not high on their list of priorities. He said there are places, including the fire department, that people can go to and get smoke detectors for free.
Authorities hold stress debriefing
Horton said authorities got together Tuesday night for a large stress debriefing to make sure law enforcement officials could talk about what happened.
Horton said it's better to for officials to get their thoughts out in the open instead of letting them bottle up.
This type of tragedy can be hard on law enforcement officials, Pike said.
"I looked in the face of about 100 different people that were involved in this thing, from dispatchers, police officers, firefighters, EMS, and I saw a lot of hurting people," Pike said. "You need to realize that while we mourn for these children, we pray for this family, we have a lot of victims. Nobody should ever have to see a child die, have to put them in their hands and smell the smell and feel the feels and go through life with that on their minds. The leadership in this county has been great and we're looking for resources to help these people through it, because there's a lot of hurting first responders right now."
He said the first officer who got to the scene has burns on her knuckles from touching the trailer while helping Whitney, but her injuries are not serious.
Pike didn't mention any other injuries.
Police chief remembers children
Pike said when he saw a picture of the three children who died Tuesday morning, he immediately recognized them from an event at the police station.
"I recognized the three boys immediately," Pike said. "I was reading to them. I can remember they were bright, energetic little children."
He said he doesn't remember much about the parents, but that they seemed happy that their children were happy.
Pike said the boys were wearing paper firefighter hats during the event, which took place around Christmas.
Donations for family
Pike said there are several ways to donate to the family, but specified two places in Imlay City.
Lakestone Bank and Trust, located at 83 W. Nepressing Street, is accepting checks written to the family. The phone number is 810-724-4652, and the account is called, "Attention Benefit of the Whitney/Kelley Family."
St. Paul's Lutheran Church, located at 200 N. Cedar Street, agreed to collect items donated to the family. The church will hold the items in storage until the family is released from the hospital, Pike said. The church's phone number is 810-724-1200.
Pike said these are the best donation options because he can't verify that all the online fundraisers will give money to the family.
Here are some of Local 4's previous stories about the fire:
Here's the full news conference from Wednesday:
Here's the full news conference from Tuesday: