Family identifies victims in GR deadly house fire

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Investigators believe there were no working smoke detectors inside a house when a fire broke out Wednesday, killing a mother and her three sons.

The Grand Rapids Fire Department said around 12:30 a.m. authorities received a report of a fire at a house on Dawes Avenue near the intersection of 28th Street and Kalamazoo Avenue.

MORE: Man who lost family in fire has ‘questions’

The scene following a deadly house fire on Dawes Avenue in Grand Rapids on Feb. 5, 2020.

After firefighters arrived on scene, Fire Chief John Lehman said they were able to get the mother and three sons from the second floor of the house. They were all unconscious and unresponsive.

Emergency crews performed CPR on all the victims, but the 35-year-old mother, Wanedia Scales, was pronounced dead at the scene, according to Lehman.

The three children were taken to Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital.

Xavier, 15, was pronounced dead at the hospital. The two other boys, Elijah, 10, and Robert Jr., 14, died later Wednesday morning, family members confirmed.

The Grand Rapids Fire Department has not yet released the victims’ identities.

Investigators also believe two dogs were killed in the blaze.

News 8 was told the husband and father of the family, Robert Scales Sr., was at work when the fire sparked.

Neighbors on the street alerted each other of the blaze by knocking on doors.

“We saw the house next door was engulfed and the father pulled up and he broke down and he was saying something was upstairs,” a next door neighbor said.

Fire investigators have been at the house all day Wednesday and the Michigan State Police brought in a K-9 to help determine the cause.

“As you can see, it’s a really close-knit little community back here because we’re all connected, and so all the kids knew each other,” the next door neighbor added.

“(There) Wasn’t nothing they wouldn’t do for their children and it was just a happy home and this right here, it breaks everybody’s heart,” said Joseph Lindsay, who works with the father. “What he (the father) needs is comfort, prayers and family and friends to support him.”

Schools in Grand Rapids released letters Wednesday afternoon to inform parents about the tragedy. They say the three children attended schools in the district. A crisis team is available to students and staff who are in need of support.

>> Letters from Grand Rapids schools inside
C.A. Frost Environmental Science Academy letter (pdf)
Sherwood Park letter (pdf)

“Them kids are so funny and they’re just the kindest kids you’ll ever meet,” neighbor Mariah Swanson said. “They would do the lawns, help out in the neighborhood. They are good kids. They are really good kids and I just couldn’t even imagine something like this happening. I just feel so bad.

“I wish I would have seen it quicker so then it couldn’t have got as bad as it did.”


Lehman added firefighters did not hear smoke detectors when they arrived on scene and haven’t found any evidence of working detectors in the home.

“This is a tragic incident for this family, but these deaths can be prevented with early detection and could have possibly made a big difference in this family’s life,” said Lehman

The fire chief urged anyone who doesn’t have working smoke detectors in their home to call the city’s 311 line to participate in the free Residential Safety Program that launched in 2013.

Through the program, crews from neighborhood fire stations make house calls at a resident’s request to install free smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Crews also look for other ways to improve safety in the home.

“We’re going to call the fire department today when my mother wakes up because that’s something you want to have working,” Swanson said.

Since the program’s launch, Grand Rapids firefighters have installed over 63,000 smoke detectors in over 10,000 homes in the city. The city has recorded an average of two fire deaths a year between 2013 and 2018.

In a state that has consistently ranked in the top ten for fire fatalities, Grand Rapids has been going against that trend. In 2019, there was one fire fatality.

“There is no reason when we have a free detector program, that people should not take advantage of that,” Lehman said. “There is really not any good reason why people should go without detectors in their homes within the city of Grand Rapids.”

That’s what firefighters hope people take away from the Dawn family’s tragedy.

Later on Wednesday, GRFD says they’ve been flooded with phone calls about the safety program.

Investigators say the fire damaged the downstairs, while it was smoke that damaged the upstairs where the family slept. They also say there was a wood burner at the rear of the home but an official cause to the blaze has not yet been determined.

— News 8’s Joe LaFurgey and Barton Deiters contributed to this report.

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