Investigators question boys, look for cause of GR fire

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Billowing smoke blanketed the west side Thursday night, as crews tried to control the fire as it ripped through the 9 unit apartment building at Fourth Street and Davis Avenue in Grand Rapids.

As quick as the fire spread, so did rumors that kids playing with fire started the blaze.

>>Inside woodtv.com: Photos of the fire at NW GR apartments

Tricia Slowinski said her son had an alibi.

“We were smellin it before he even came down here. So I just want to clear that,” said Slowinski.

Her son, Isiah, blamed the fire on another kid in the neighborhood.

“He told me I set some leaves on fire,” said 11-year-old Isiah Slowinski. “I said why would you do that? And he said help me put it out with some rocks. I said no.”

Angela Elliot, the mother of the other boy, said her son didn’t do it either.

Fire investigators are still trying to sort out rumor from truth. As of Friday evening, they’re not sure what caused the fire, or if kids had anything to do with it.

Bottom line, some kids do like to play with fire. Their fascination with flames is as old as fire itself.

“Usually they stop at a certain point,” says Grand Rapids Deputy Fire Chief Peg Felix.

But for those who don’t, the end result can be devastating and sometimes tragic.

According to the United States Fire Administration, 40 percent of fires that kill children ages 5 and under are started by children.Young fire setters are responsible for 95,000 fires annually, resulting in $300 million in property damage, 3,000 injuries and 300 deaths.

There are certain signs that parents should be aware of if they’re considered about their child’s fascination with fire.

“If they notice burn marks in their bedrooms. Any burns, or they’re being secretive outside or there are burned leaves or trash outside that would be a good indicator,” said Grand Rapids Fire Department Deputy Chief Peg Felix. “If the parents know they’ve set two or more fires, then you have a problem.”

West Michigan Fire Match is a program that helps identify and intervene when kids show signs of becoming fire bugs. Children are evaluated on their fire setting risk.

The program evaluates if the child is just curious about fire or is in need of mental health intervention. As many as 20 children go through the Fire Match program every year.

“We really want to get in there and preempt anything happening in the future,” says Deputy Chief Felix.

Parents who are concerned about their child’s interest in fire can contact the GRFD at 616.456.3028.

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On the web:

Juvenile Firesetter Program

U.S. Fire Administration: Arson Awareness – Prevent Youth Firesetting

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