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Fire deaths a cause for alarm

Judith Young looks at the remains of her neighbor’s mobile home, which was lost in a fire on Friday, Jan. 5. The fire claimed the lives of the two residents, Rose Marie Couillard, 59, and James (Jimmy) Willis Chandler, Jr., 49. Because working smoke detectors were not located in the mobile home, Young has made an effort to supply every mobile home in the park with working equipment. (Beth Leipholtz / Echo Press)1 / 2
Rose Marie Couillard, 59, and James "Jimmy" Willis Chandler, Jr., 49 were killed when a fire broke out in their mobile home in Alexandria on Friday, Jan. 5. (Contributed) 2 / 2


That is the only word Judith Young could produce as she explained what it felt like to watch her neighbor's home burn, knowing the couple was inside.

The early morning fire at the Viking City mobile home park on Friday, Jan. 5, claimed the lives of Rose Marie Couillard, 59, and James "Jimmy" Willis Chandler, Jr., 49, as well as the lives of their two dogs.

The fire, which investigators said was caused by smoking, began in the living room. Couillard and Chandler both died of smoke inhalation. According to Alexandria Fire Chief Jeff Karrow, no smoke detectors were located in the mobile home.

"Their bedroom was in the back and the fire started in the living room," Young said. "There were no smoke detectors. There's a side door by the bedroom. They could have gotten out (if there had been smoke detectors)."

So, in the fire's aftermath, Young has decided to do what she can to make sure the same scenario doesn't unfold for others in the mobile home park. After the fire, she posted on Facebook that she was looking for people willing to donate smoke detectors and batteries so that she could be sure each of the 33 mobile homes in the park was equipped.

"It was a sense of helplessness and incredible sense of loss," Young said. "In that moment of helplessness, you just search for something you can do."

Young's post elicited some donations, as well as garnered some comments suggesting she talk to the Alexandria Fire Department and the Red Cross. She connected with both organizations and began making the rounds in the mobile home park to determine which homes needed smoke detectors.

"The response has been sadness, a grief," Young said. "Of all (33) of these mobile homes, only three people said 'I have working smoke detectors and I checked them.'"

In addition to the donations, Eric Criswel, the owner of the mobile home park purchased smoke detectors for each mobile home, which were delivered Sunday, Jan. 7. The smoke detectors also act as carbon monoxide detectors and have a 10-year battery.

"I'm going to go back around and make sure everyone got them installed," Young said. "We do have somebody who can help install."

The mobile home park has two hearing impaired residents who will need special alarm systems, which the Red Cross can provide and install free of charge if need be.

"They're strobe systems and also have a vibrator under the bed that will wake them when they're sleeping," Young said. 

Young says the community is coming together to do what they can, especially for Chandler's 18-year-old daughter, Deanna, who also lives in the mobile home park.

"Jimmy was quite a character," Young said. "Always a smile, always made you laugh. He was kind of crazy, kind of fun. He would have been the guy that would have given you the shirt off his back."

After being sure that all the mobile homes in Viking City have working smoke detectors, Young hopes to carry the effort to other mobile home parks in Alexandria.

"The Red Cross will provide up to three (smoke detectors) per home, and will install also," Young said.

According to Karrow, smoke detectors should be installed on every level of a home and should be replaced every 10 years. Batteries should be changed twice per year and each alarm should be tested monthly.

Anyone wishing to donate may drop off smoke detectors and batteries in the lobby of Alexandria Light and Power.

"A smoke detector will not save your life unless it's out of the box, on the wall and has a working battery," Young said.

While good is coming from Young's actions, she says the underlying reason for those actions stirs a deep sadness.

"It's a sad situation," she said. "I wish this was a different story, like we need to get belongings replaced. I wish we wouldn't have had loss of life to kind of spur this. We definitely don't want to lose anyone else."

Fund started to help family

Friends of Jimmy Chandler and Rose Couillard have started a GoFundMe page to help the family:

Beth Leipholtz

Beth is a reporter at the Echo Press. She graduated from the College of Saint Benedict in May 2015 with a degree in Communication and Hispanic Studies. Journalism has always been her passion, but she also enjoys blogging and graphic design. In her spare time, she's most likely at Crossfit or at home with her boyfriend and three dogs.

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