Tenants complained of problems at Butte trailer years, months, days before fatal fire

Published: Sep. 13, 2017 at 9:28 PM AKDT
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Families living in the Butte mobile home that burned Thursday, killing five children, reported a series problems with the trailer to landlords in the years, months and weeks before the blaze.

The state Fire Marshal is investigating the cause of the early morning fire, which gutted the 650-square foot home at 2910 South Wickham Circle. Neighbors were unable to save the girls, sisters ages 3 to 12, as the parents drove to work and errands.

An attorney for the family, Josh Fannon, said today that an electrical outlet had sparked within seven to 10 days before the fire. The gas to the home had been turned off, he said.

The former owner of the property had attempted to evict the family in April due to unpaid rent and utility bills. The girls’ parents said at the time that lingering problems with the furnace and a broken door contributed to astronomical heating bills. The eviction effort failed.

“The furnace was not properly serviced before we moved in,” testified Janelle Quackenbush, the mother. “The guy that came and looked at it told us that the furnace had not been serviced in over two years.”

Listen to the full eviction hearing here:

Jesse Pillittier said he lived at the same trailer for about two years prior to Quackenbush and Jimmy Flores. Pillittier said his family, too, complained to then-property owner Jackie Hughes about problems with the furnace and a door that wouldn’t close in winter.

Pillittier's wife Nancy said two outlets in the trailer did not work and that the couple struggled to get the attention of the landlord or property manager to make repairs.

An attorney for Hughes, Eric Conard, said he could not speak to earlier tenants’ complaints about the property but that the problems reported by Flores and Quackenbush might not have warranted repairs and could have been due to an unusual cold snap.

The young couple testified that they had worked to obtain rental assistance but that effort fell through when a representative for the landlord did not provide the necessary paperwork.

A memorial for the girls -- Jaelynn Flores, 3, Sofia Flores, 6, Lilyanna Flores, 7, Nevaeh Flores, 8, and Alexis Quackenbush, 12 -- is planned for 6 to 8 p.m. Saturday at the Palmer Train Depot.