Novi chief says fire victims may have disabled alarm
Novi — A smoke detector may have been deliberately disabled by the victims of a house fire in which five men died this past weekend because they frequently cooked meals in the basement, officials said Tuesday.
The two-story Cape Cod home in an upscale subdivision on Mystic Forest Drive apparently violated at least one city ordinance — not having a basement egress window that could have provided an exit, Public Safety Director David Molloy said at a news conference. The only window was glass block, he said, which also prevented smoke from the fire venting outside.
The home was equipped with several smoke detectors, Molloy said, but many of them were in disrepair or had been deliberately disabled, including one in the basement.
The five victims have been identified: Leonel Alvarado Rodriguez, 18; Miguel Nunez Diaz, 23; Bryan Alexis Medina Contreras, 16; and Simeon Diaz Nunez, 18, and Pablo Alvaro Encino, 23.
All were Mexican nationals working at a Chinese restaurant in Novi, Molloy said.
“We believe we know the cause of the fire and still need to identify one victim,” Molloy said. “We are also looking into possible code violations at the house as well as possible criminal charges.
“We are working with the Mexican Consulate in Detroit in an effort to identify the fifth man and also to determine if they were in the country legally.”
Autopsies determined all five died of smoke and soot inhalation. Some had tried to get out of the basement, Molloy said.
Molloy said the home is owned by Roger Tam, who also owned Kim’s Garden Chinese Restaurant in Novi, where the men worked. Tam was “somewhat cooperative” with investigators until he hired an attorney, Molloy said. Tam, who apparently allowed his employees to live there, has more than one address and was not at the home at the time of the fire but went there Sunday morning and was the first to report smoke coming from the basement.
Tam initially told a fire dispatcher occupants had gotten out of the house but when firefighters responded he told them there were possibly five men in the basement.
“He (Tam) holds many of the keys (to questions),” Molloy said, adding the investigation into the incident continues.
Molloy said Tam’s other properties have been checked since Sunday’s fire and no problems were found and there was no evidence of multi-occupancy.
The smoke was so thick that there was “zero visibility” inside the house, firefighters said, and the victims were not found until the fire was put out. The origin of the fire is believed to have been a smoldering mattress and investigators have not ruled out a careless smoker, Molloy said.
Relatives or friends of the victims who may have information about their background are asked to call Novi police at (248) 347-0530