Electric issues likely caused deadly blaze

Officials said a smoke detector could have prevented tragedy.
Monday, August 13, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 5:32 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

ST. JOSEPH — Electrical problems appeared to have contributed to a house fire that claimed the lives of six family members. But another electrical device could have helped save their lives.

“I guarantee the family would have got out alive if they’d just had one working smoke alarm,” Fire Inspector Steve Henrichson said. Henrichson was still investigating the cause of the fire Sunday.

The fire early Saturday likely started in a first-floor room near an electrical outlet where an air-conditioning unit was functioning, Henrichson said.

The blaze was largely contained on the first floor. All six victims were found on the second floor, said Capt. Kevin Castle, a Police Department spokesman.

Victims were identified as Kealan Riggs, 8; Brandon Lee Updegraff, 10; Tristan Riggs, 11; Sean Fox, 16; Lisa Riggs, 38; and Patricia Duryee, 61.

Lisa was the mother of Kealan, Tristan and Sean, the daughter of Duryee and the aunt to Updegraff. Six pets, including two large dogs, also died in the fire.

Bryan Riggs, 39, husband to Lisa and father to Kealan and Tristan, survived the fire by jumping out a second-floor window. He was hospitalized for his injuries, said Sgt. Fritz Adams of the St. Joseph Police Department.

Brandon Fox, 17, the sole surviving son, wasn’t home during the fire because he was at a friend’s house, said Anthony Lopez, a cousin.

“(Brandon) is still in shock. We’re all still in shock,” said Danielle Barnes, who was the maid of honor at the Riggs’ wedding in 1998. “Lisa was awesome, she had a kick personality. She always had something funny to say.”

Friends and school staff remembered the three brothers as quiet, friendly and studious. Kealan would have been a second-grader at Parkway Elementary School next school year, and Tristan was preparing for the fifth grade.

Sean, the oldest brother killed, was looking forward to his junior year at Central High School. Demi Uredi, who will be a junior later this month at Central, had known Sean since they were in fourth grade.

“He was kind of quiet, but when he did talk, he was really funny,” Uredi said.

Central High School assistant principal Jason Calloway said that Sean, a likeable young man with a cheeky smile, will be missed.

Teacher Renee Burress, who had Tristan in her fourth-grade class this past year, remembered Tristan as a happy boy who loved science, never complained and got along well with everyone.

“Anytime you lose a child, especially one with a smile on his face, it’s very difficult,” Burress said.

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