WHITE PIGEON, Mich. (WOOD/AP) — The White Pigeon fire chief says it appears electrical issues may have sparked a house fire that killed a pregnant woman and 7-year-old boy, and sent seven other people to the hospital.
White Pigeon Fire Chief Troy Andrews says crews responding to a report of a fire shortly after 3 a.m. Tuesday found several residents outside and were told two were still on the home's second floor. He says firefighters tried to get inside but were pushed back by intense flames.
Once crews got inside the home, the stairway to the second floor collapsed.
Andrews says the 36-year-old woman and a 7-year-old boy were found dead. The fire chief said the woman was not the boy's mother.
He added that a dog was found dead in the basement and another was found alive.
He told 24 Hour News 8 that seven children and four adults lived in the house near the Indiana border. Nine of them escaped; seven were hospitalized with smoke inhalation or to be checked out. All but one had been released as of Tuesday night, and the only one still in the hospital was there for evaluation of an unrelated medical condition.
White Pigeon Community Schools confirmed the 7-year-old boy was a first-grader at Central Elementary in a Tuesday letter to parents. The district said it has made counselors from across the county available to grieving students.
"It's tough. You know, a 7-year-old boy, this is my first child fatality. I have two young children as well as most of our guys on the department. We are a young department, and it's hard. Our children go to school with these children and it's hard. I'm taking it very hard, but I'm doing the best I can," said White Pigeon Assistant Fire Chief Tyler Royce.
People living at the home reported having electrical issues.The fire chief says there is nothing suspicious about the fire, but it remains under investigation.
Chief Andrews says his department works hard to prevent tragedies like this one, handing out smoke detectors and teaching fire safety tips at schools, but it’s not always enough.
"I did a walkthrough and throughout the other bedrooms, but didn't find any smoke detectors,” he said.
"It's not an easy job, especially when you have a deceased child close to the age of your child, that has interaction with your child, through the school, through a sporting program, but you know, I'm doing the best I can," he added.
A local business owner was moved to make sure the surviving six children were taken care of, especially during the holidays.
"To be honest, we went by this morning and just kind of looked at it and it brought a tear to my eye knowing that there were kids in there that are not going to have anything left anymore," said Andrew Morris, who owns and operates Morris Motorsports in White Pigeon.
He collected and distributed goods for those affected by wildfires and floods in other parts of the country. Now, tragedy has come to the town he calls home.
"Basically what we're going to do is anyone can drop off items here: toys, hygiene stuff is probably the main things that they would need,” Morris said.
Morris said he will collect the goods and deliver them to the families hurt by the fire. He’s also donating 35 percent of his company’s sales through Dec. 23. He'll also donate 35 percent of upfront payment for appointments scheduled for March.
"I don't know,” he said. “It just kind of gets me. I got kids and whether it's here there or anywhere, we'll help any way we can, anytime."