Porch focus of adult foster home fire investigation

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The investigation into a fatal fire at a Grand Rapids adult foster care home should be complete Tuesday, but it may be hard to determine exactly what caused it.

Investigators think the early Saturday fire sparked in the front porch area of the house on Widdicomb Avenue NW north of 11th Street. Testing found high levels of heat in that area, which means whatever started the fire may have disintegrated. Additionally, the high-pressure water used to douse the flames may have moved or destroyed evidence.

Two people were killed in the fire: Michael Kolenbrander, 19, and a 62-year-old man whose name hasn’t been released. Family members say Kolenbrander made it out, but then went back in to try to save the 62-year-old, who was on the second floor.

Wind was also a factor in the fire.

“At the time of the fire, it was about 20 miles per hour,” Grand Rapids  Fire Prevention Bureau Capt. Donald Gerkey said. “It was blowing through the door.”

It appears the smoke alarms didn’t go off, but it’s still unclear why. According to state records from June, the home met all fire safety requirements.

“It’s important to check your smoke detector, smoke alarm, to make sure they are active and working  every month because quick activation of the fire activates the 911 system, gets people out of the house, gets the fire department to the scene quicker,” Gerkey said.

The Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs said in a Monday statement to 24 Hour News 8 that it has opened an investigation and that a representative was on site the day of the fire.

Gerkey says there were 14 people in the home at the time of the fire. It’s only licensed to house up to six adults with needs, plus the owner’s four-person family. The others were guests, investigators say: construction workers who crashed there after a late night job in Grandville. Investigators were told the owner of the construction company also helps run the foster care home. Having guests at the home does not appear to be a violation of any laws.

The American Red Cross is helping provide housing for six people who were in the home. The rest are staying with family or friends.

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