Two Eastern Iowa fires that killed a combined nine people, including four children, within five days made 2017 the deadliest year in more than a decade for fire deaths in Iowa.
The State Fire Marshal’s Office reported 38 confirmed fire deaths as of Wednesday, with another 13 expected to go on the list, said Ron Humphrey, special agent in charge of the Office’s Arson and Explosives Bureau.
“We’re tentatively at 51 for the year,” Humphrey said. “There have been several multi-fatality cases. Those start to add up pretty quickly.”
On Wednesday, investigators had yet to release the names of four family members who died in an early Christmas Day house fire in Blue Grass, a small bedroom community a few miles west of Davenport.
“There’s a whole lot as a community we have to take in,” said Blue Grass Mayor Tim Brandenburg. “It’s bad enough to lose one family member, but here there were four. And to have it happen on Christmas Day.”
Blue Grass Police Sgt. Garrett Jahns said officials are waiting for the medical examiner to confirm the causes of death for the four family members killed by the blaze reported shortly after midnight Dec. 25. One of the occupants was able to flee the burning house and was transported to the hospital, but later died, police reported. The other three family members died inside.
The death toll from a Dec. 21 fire in Davenport went up to five earlier this week when two children transported to University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics after the blaze died from their injuries, officials said.
“They are gone,” said the children’s great-grandmother, Sue Wilson, 78, of Davenport, in a phone interview. “They are all with their mommy.”
Kelsey Clain, 23, and two of her children, Jayden Smead, 5, and Carson Smead, 2, were killed when their mobile home caught fire late Dec. 21. Skylar Smead, 4, and Isabella Smead, 9 months, were taken to the UI hospital with critical injuries. Isabella was taken off life support on Sunday and Skylar on Tuesday, Wilson said.
Skylar’s heart and liver were donated, she said.
Interim Davenport Fire Marshal Jim Morris confirmed Isabella and Skylar both had died.
The cause of the fire is undetermined, Morris said. Evidence at the scene didn’t pinpoint a cause and “we had nobody to talk to who was involved,” he said.
“There were no working smoke detectors present to allow for early notification of the residents,” Morris said.
The mobile home was owner-occupied and therefore did not fall under the Fire Department’s inspection of rental properties, he said.
“There’s no way for us to enforce use of smoke detectors other than public service announcements like this one,” he said.
In addition to 2017 setting a record in recent years for Iowa fire fatalities, its been nearly four years since five or more people died in one fire in the state. The last time that happened, according to State Fire Marshal records, was Jan. 24, 2014, when three adults and two children were killed in a house fire in Arlington.
Memorials have been established for both Eastern Iowa families affected by the recent fire deaths. Clain’s family has a GoFundMe page to raise money for funeral expenses and hospital bills for Isabella and Skylar, the site says.
Brandenburg said an account has been set up at the Blue Grass Savings Bank for the family that died in the Dec. 25 Blue Grass fire. The bank’s phone number is (563) 381-1732.