Three young children who were hospitalized following a deadly carbon monoxide leak in a Blanchard, North Dakota, home have been released from the hospital.
Four people were hospitalized and four others died when an improperly vented water heater caused a carbon monoxide leak in the home Sunday – the propane-fueled tankless water heater was being used to fill a large swimming pool in the backyard, Capt. Tony Ernst of the Traill County Sheriff's Office told Forum News Service.
"They got together for a family gathering, they were barbecuing, grilling out, having fun with kids in the yard," Michelle Knutson, sister and aunt of the victims, told Valley News Live.
Ross Matejcek, 53, who owned the home, lived their with his girlfriend, Bonnie Fisher, 45, and her son, Ricky Fisher, 27, the Grand Forks Herald says. Bonnie Fisher's daughter, Margaret "Megan" Fisher, 24, and her four young children, were also at the home at the time of the leak.
"They saw an animal in the basement that was laying unconscious and from what I understand everyone who went down there did not make it out," Knutson told Valley News Live.
Found dead inside the home were Matejcek, Ricky Fisher, Margaret Fisher, and her 6-year-old son Jabin Newmes. Bonnie Fisher and the three other children – ages 4, 2 and 8 months – were hospitalized.
The children were released from the hospital Tuesday afternoon. Bonnie Fisher is listed in good condition.
One other person was in the home, but was unaffected by the leak, reports note. Several officers who responded to the incident got sick from the leak as well, WDAY says.
'Trying to get through it'
Family and friends of the family are struggling to cope with what happened Sunday night.
"We're trying to get through it. It's tough, very tough," Billy Knutson, Bonnie Fisher's brother, told Forum News Service.
He told the publication family members have volunteered to help care for Margaret Fisher's surviving children. Currently they are in the care of county services and the family is working with the county to get temporary custody, reports note.
"Megan loved her horses, loved her babies more than life itself," Michelle Knutson told Valley News Live. "Ricky was a motor enthusiast, like the rest of my family. He was giving rides to the kids that day. Jabin is a sweet little boy. He brought purple flowers to his grandma for the barbecue. A very thoughtful little boy."
People who know the Fisher family have set up a GoFundMe page to help pay for funeral costs. In 23 hours, the page had raised $1,445 of its $2,500 goal.
Memorial funds have also been set up through Choice Financial and Citizens Community Credit Union, the Grand Forks Herald reports.
A memorial service for Matejcek is set for Friday, according to his obituary. Funeral arrangements for the other victims haven't been announced.
Carbon monoxide dangers
According to the Minnesota Department of Health, carbon monoxide poisoning is of grave concern because it is an odorless, colorless gas that can’t be detected by human senses and often emits from faulty furnaces, heaters and other appliances.
Poisonings are most prevalent during the winter months, when such heaters are used frequently.
Earlier this year, state officials issued a reminder about carbon monoxide dangers following a rash of deaths, urging residents to purchase carbon monoxide detectors for their homes.
The Star Tribune reported carbon monoxide deaths have been going up in recent years, with 22 deaths in 2014 – a slight jump over the 18 fatalities in 2013.