Fire investigators Monday pinpointed the cause of a weekend blaze in Vermont’s Champlain Islands that killed a kindergartner and an 11-month-old, blaming it on a failure with a household appliance.
Following the completion of autopsy reports by the office of the Vermont chief medical examiner in Burlington, the Vermont Department of Public Safety Monday identified the young fire victims as Theodore Maltais, 5, and Nathaniel Maltais, 11 ½ months.
“There’s a lot of love in this town, holding everybody up,” observed neighbor Pam Eaton, describing the grief in North Hero.
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After 1 a.m. Saturday, the boys’ parents, Desiree and Mason Maltais, were able to escape heavy smoke and flames in their home on Bridge Road in North Hero. According to first responders, the parents tried desperately to save their boys, but just couldn’t make it to them in time.
Mason Maltais is a school board member in the community, and Desiree Maltais is active on the area rescue squad.
“We’re a big family,” said fellow Grand Isle/North Hero Rescue member Skylar Gallagher, who used the power of social media and online fundraising to collect more than $50,000 by midday Monday to help the family replace the material possessions they lost.
“Obviously, there’s things that they can’t ever get back, but to try to get back on their feet,” Gallagher said of her hopes for the donations made through an online giving portal shared on the Facebook page of the local newspaper, The Islander.
Monday, state investigators blamed the fire on a problem with the family’s electric clothes dryer and venting system. It had been in use shortly before the flames broke out, according to a news release from the Vermont Department of Public Safety. Investigators also said the smoke detectors in the home appeared to have been working properly.
Also at the start of the week, extra counselors were on-hand at the K-6 school where Theodore Maltais was a kindergartener, said district superintendent Michael Clark.
“I’m really proud at how the students and the teachers are supporting each other,” Clark told necn. “It really is all about that small community feel.”
North Hero’s fire chief, Michael Murdock, encouraged community members to hug their kids a little extra tightly.
Murdock and other firefighters involved in the emergency call Saturday were scheduled to take part in a major event stress debriefing Monday night to help them work through what happened.
As for that impressive $50,000-plus haul for donations, many from the tiny communities in the Islands, Chief Murdock said he wasn’t surprised.
“It’s a small island,” Murdock said of North Hero. “But [with] big hearts.”
The Maltais family, through Skylar Gallagher, asked necn to encourage people to check their dryer vents and the safety in their laundry rooms, to help prevent another tragedy like the one that claimed the lives of their two boys.