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.”
Investigators on Thursday released 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.
The victims are Larry Loose Sr., 71, Rose Loose, 71, and their sons Steven Loose, 36, and Michael Loose, 35. Michael Loose was pulled from the blaze, but was later pronounced dead at an area hospital, according to officials.
The fire, which began at 12:34 a.m. Christmas Day, remains under investigation by the State Fire Marshal.
“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.
Four people died in a May 25 apartment fire in Des Moines. A 16-year-old girl and a bus driver died in a school bus fire Dec. 12 near Oakland in western Iowa.
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.
MASON CITY | The City Council voted 6-0 Thursday night to formally approve an agreement with G8 Development of San Diego to build a downtown hotel.
Outgoing Mayor Eric Bookmeyer, in his last action at a City Council meeting, signed the document. G8 President Philip Chodur had already signed it.
In contrast to recent meetings in which supporters of Gatehouse Mason City LLC pleaded with the council to approve Gatehouse — and G8 supporters were just as passionate, only four people spoke during a public hearing — two in favor of G8, two against.
Councilman John Lee, who abstained at the last council meeting rather than voting for G8, said Thursday he had some questions, including whether Chodur had dropped his lawsuit against the city.
Interim City Administrator Kevin Jacobson said the agreement calls for him to drop the suit within five days of the signing or he would be in default.
Councilman Travis Hickey said, "This is a huge positive for the community. We've got the project in place; we've got the developer in place; we've got the best deal in place.
Bill Schickel, an early Gatehouse supporter, said his many importatnt conditions are being met — the lawsuit will be dropped; Chodur will be working with The Music Man Square on a memorandum of understanding; the development agreement is in place; and G8 financing will be finalized once the development agreement is signed.
"This is a great project," said Councilwoman Janet Solberg. "We need this to build on. We haven't seen the full potential of what's coming down the pipeline."
Steve Noto of HPI Hospitality, one of the local backers of G8, clarified a statement he made at a previous meeting. Noto had said G8 had a hotel under construction in Hawaii. Actually, he said, it's "under development, not under construction."
Now that a decision has been made, Noto urged the community to get behind the project and support it.
John Barron, president of the Mason City Foundation which oversees The Music Man Square, was a proponent of Gatehouse. He said after the meeting he will support the decision of the council.
"It's time to move on," he said.
MASON CITY | More snow is expected by the end of the week in North Iowa, and conditions could become treacherous Friday.
The National Weather Service has issued a winter weather advisory from 3 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday for Cerro Gordo, Kossuth, Winnebago, Worth, Hancock, Wright and Franklin counties.
Slippery road conditions and reduced visibility are expected for the morning commute, as winds could drift snow across roadways.
Forecasters say flurries should start falling after 1 p.m. Friday and continue through the evening.
The latest band of snow could bring 2 to 4 inches on top of Thursday’s snow.
As a result, Mason City has announced that alternate side parking and the emergency snow route are in effect until further notice.
Friday's temps are expected to stay low with a high of 7 and low overnight of minus 10. Wind chill will be a factor throughout the day, at minus 15, and in the evening, dropping as low as minus 25.
Temperatures will not improve over the weekend through the New Year.
Saturday will be blustery, with a high near minus 5 and a low of minus 12 degrees. Winds will be constant through the day at 13 to 17 mph, gusting up to 24 mph.
Sunday and Monday will be similar, with highs below zero. Tuesday is expected to be slightly warmer, with a high of 10 degrees.
MASON CITY | A Mason City man has been arrested and charged with felony forgery after allegedly using fake movie money to purchase items from local stores in December.
Charles Edward Reich, 40, has been charged with forgery and misdemeanor possession of drug paraphernalia in two separate incidents in Mason City.
Reich allegedly used fake money marked "For Motion Pictures Use Only" to purchase merchandise from Yes Way, 1303 Fourth St. S.W., and McDonalds South, 2010 S. Federal Ave., on Dec. 13, according to court documents.
He was pulled over for an unrelated traffic stop in the 700 block of South Pennsylvania Avenue on Dec. 15.
While executing a search warrant of Reich's vehicle, police said in charging documents they found a glass pipe commonly used to smoke methamphetamine with burnt residue inside, as well as another fake $50 bill.
An arrest warrant was filed Dec. 19. Reich was arrested and booked in the Cerro Gordo County Jail Wednesday.
Reich will appear in Cerro Gordo County District Court Jan. 17 for the forgery charge. His non-jury trial for the drug paraphernalia case is scheduled for June 28.
Reich was released under supervision of the Department of Correctional Services Thursday afternoon after his initial court appearance.