200 block of S. Second Street

Candles, flowers and stuffed animals sit outside 218 South Second Street, on Sunday, Jan. 5, 2020. Cami Jo Combs, 20, and her 2-year-old daughter, Callie Jo Flowers, were killed in a house fire on Saturday morning. 

The Columbia house where a young mother and daughter died in a fire Saturday had had seven working smoke detectors when it was last inspected.

But firefighters found only one detector after the fire and it wasn't working.

Now, the landlord, borough officials and the woman who lived there and whose daughter and granddaughter died are wondering what happened to the others.

Ray Kreider, who owns 218 South Second St., said Tuesday he didn't install the detectors himself.

Instead, he said, his former property manager installed them in April. That's when borough officials last inspected the property.

"I really don't know what happened," Kreider, who has experienced other small fires at other properties, said Tuesday. "I can't live in the house and make sure all detectors are working on a daily basis," he said.

The borough's code requires rental units to be inspected every three years or when new tenants move in.

That's around when Michelle Hoffman, her daughters Cami Jo Combs and Tori Lefever, and her three grandchildren moved in.

Combs, 20, and her daughter, Callie Jo Flowers, 2, died in the fire. The fire was ruled accidental, caused by a trash can on the stove.

Cami Jo Combs Callie Jo Flowers

Smoke detectors were present at the April inspection, according to Mayor Leo Lutz and Douglas Kemmerly, the borough's fire chief.

"The borough is looking into that issue, and if necessary, there will be citations issued," he said. Not having a smoke detector is punishable by a $200 fine, plus the cost of detector.

Hoffman said she doesn't know what happened to the detectors.

"I didn't take no smoke detectors down, so I wouldn't have a clue," she said.

She said she and her surviving daughter were talking about the detectors Tuesday and Lefever could only recall seeing one – the one outside Combs' bedroom.

That detector used a nine-volt battery, and while its battery had power and was connected, Kemmerly said the detector wasn't working when firefighters entered the house within about five minutes of being dispatched.

He doesn't know why it wasn't working.

Kreider said newer detectors that are sealed and use 10-year lithium batteries were installed as far as he knew. His former property manager, whom he didn't identify, showed him a receipt Monday for lithium detectors.

There also should have been at least one carbon monoxide detector in the house, Kreider said, but none were found.

"I have some big questions," Kreider said, adding he planned to meet with borough officials Wednesday and talk again with the former property manager. Kreider estimated damage at more than $100,000 - more than the property's $92,000 in insurance coverage, he said. Beyond the financial losses, Kreider said he was saddened by the loss of lives. "I'm sad for the whole situation," he said.

With older smoke detectors that use 9-volt batteries, people can disconnect the battery to quiet them if they're set off, usually by cooking or smoking, Kreider said.

That's not possible with lithium detectors. So people sometimes just get rid of the detector, he said, adding he's seen that happen.

He owns three other rental properties in the borough and several more in Manor and West Hempfield townships.

Kreider is talking to his other tenants to make sure they don't tamper with or remove detectors. And he thinks families should have fire drills.

"Because when there's no plan, there's chaos," he said.

Lutz, the mayor, said the borough is trying to see what more it can do in terms of fire safety education.

It already provides smoke detectors for free to homeowners. Kemmerly said he had nine voicemails Monday night from people asking for detectors.

Getting into the schools and targeting kids is one idea, Lutz said, noting sometimes parents listen better to their children.

Meanwhile, Hoffman said her family is holding together. A GoFundMe account has been set up to help with funeral costs. About $7,000 of its $10,000 goal had been raised as of Tuesday afternoon.

The funeral is planned for Friday at Columbia United Methodist Church, 510 Walnut St.