Investigators now say they know the cause of a weekend house fire in southwest Iowa that killed a young boy who was trapped in a second-floor bedroom. Council Bluffs Fire Chief Alan Byers says they’ve concluded the probe into Saturday’s early-morning blaze which started in a first-floor bedroom and quickly spread.
“We’ve determined that the fire was started by one of the siblings in the home, playing with a lighter,” Chief Byers says. “The mother, it appears, did a superhuman effort trying to get to the child.” The boy who died is identified as four-year-old Leland Johnson. The victim’s mother and two other children were able to escape.
Investigators found no evidence of a working smoke detector in the gutted house, but Byers says they were told there had been at least one. Some low-income residents of Council Bluffs qualify for free smoke detectors, but there’s no follow-up once the devices are installed.
“Do we have to go out and start knocking on doors and make sure?” the chief asks. “Once we put a detector up, it’s up to the people that live in the house to take care of it and maintain it.” The city offers what’s called the Juvenile Fire Setter Program which aims to teach children under 17 about fire dangers, fire prevention, the consequences of playing with fire and how to survive a fire.
“The message of just the fire department getting out and doing it isn’t working,” Byers says. “We’re looking for the community to step up and help take care of each other here.” The house was fully engulfed as fire crews arrived and the smoke inside was heavy.
The boy was rescued from the house by firefighters but died shortly after arriving at the hospital.