GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Investigators say a deadly Saturday morning fire at an adult foster care home in Grand Rapids was caused by a smoker.
Authorities said a cigarette left in a designated smoking area caught a piece of porch furniture on fire at the home on Widdicomb Avenue NW, north of 11th Street. Grand Rapids fire investigators say either the smoldering butt dropped onto the furniture or a strong wind blew it onto the furniture and fanned the fire.
The fire took the lives of 69-year-old Daniel Foster and 19-year-old Michael Kolenbrander, who a family member initially said had escaped, but went back in to try to save Foster. However, fire investigators and the homeowner said Wednesday there is no indication Kolenbrander evacuated and re-entered the burning home.
Both men were found on the second floor of the home. The medical examiner determined they both suffocated from the smoke.
Investigators say high winds, possible delays in notifying firefighters and possible delays in the smoke alarms activating contributed to the severity of the fire.
According to state records from June, the home met all fire safety requirements. The Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs says it has launched an investigation.
Fire investigators say they’ve found evidence that Kolenbrander was out smoking on the home’s porch an hour before the fire started.
According to updated numbers from the fire department, 14 people were inside the home at the time of the fire, including 6 adults with needs, the owner’s family of six and two friends of the owners’ husband, who are construction workers who crashed there after a late night job in Grandville.
Grand Rapids Fire Chief John Lehman also revealed what he said was another major frustrating factor in the fire. He said that there was a delay in reporting the fire to 911. He said he didn't know how much time passed between the fire being discovered and the 911 call being placed.
"When we determine that people did not call 911, attempted to fight the fire on their own before we get there -- we just know that every second... is so critical in these situations," Lehman told 24 Hour News 8 after the news a Wednesday news conference about the fire. "When we are faced with a situation that puts us behind the eight ball before we even get there, [firefighters] do feel frustrated by that."
The American Red Cross is helping provide housing for six people who were in the home. The rest are staying with family or friends.
The Grand Rapids Fire Department encourages homeowners without working smoke alarms to contact the city for free smoke alarms, which the fire department installs as part of its Residential Safety Assessment Program. Appointments can be scheduled by calling the city's 311 line at 616.456.3000. Renters are encouraged to contact their landlord or management if smoke alarms aren't working; the city requires all rental units to have working smoke alarms.