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IL man builds memorial to honor family killed in a fire last year

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    MILAN, IL (WQAD ) — Exactly one year ago, Mike Johnson lost three generations of his family in a mobile home in Milan.

According to the Rock Island County Sheriff, the fire broke out shortly after 4:30 a.m. at Airview Trailer Park.

“When I showed up the flames was coming out the kitchen window,” said Mike Johnson, a relative to those who died. “(The fire department) had one hose on the fire, shooting in on top of the fire.”

Unfortunately for Johnson, his 71-year-old mother Delores Martin, his 31-year-old niece Brittany Mote, and his nine-year-old great nephew Thomas died in that fire. Their cause of death was ruled to be smoke inhalation.

Johnson said once the trailer was removed following the initial investigation, he knew he wanted to build something new where the house once stood.

With the help of others in the community, he built a memorial site near the center of the mobile home park.

“It’s not really to honor their deaths, it’s to honor their life here. They lived here for 23 years on this lot,” said Johnson. “We just thought we’d put something here to remind everybody of them.”

In the center of the memorial is a white wooden cross surrounded by flowers and memorial stones. On the three points of the cross are photos of all three family members.

“Instead of driving by and seeing an empty lot and picturing a burned out trailer where everyone died… (the community) can see a lot with a beautiful memorial out here where they lived,” Johnson said.

Surrounding the paving of the memorial are three planted trees. A pink dogwood tree planted in Brittany’s name, a baby blue spruce for Thomas, and a lilac tree for Delores.

“Brittany’s favorite color was pink, mom’s favorite tree was the lilac and Thomas loved Christmas so they all got everything they needed,” Johnson said with a smile.

Johnson said while he can smile and admire the memorial, he is still healing from the tragic loss.

“10:30 p.m. or 11 o’clock was the last time I heard my mom’s voice,” said Johnson holding back tears. “Not knowing that six hours later… she’d be gone forever.”

Johnson said the fire department ruled the cause of the fire as “undetermined” and told him it could have been an electrical issue. Still, Johnson argues the department did not do enough to save his family.

“I don’t blame the volunteer firemen because they train for that. They’re anxious to get in there and save someones life,” said Johnson. “I blame the ones that are in charge.”

He said he has been speaking with local legislators to get policies changed and provide better training for firefighters that respond specifically to trailer park fires.

“So that when (firefighters) show up to a mobile home and they know where everyone’s at – they cut the walls and pull the people out. That should be a policy.”

Johnson wanted to thank the following people for their help after the fire:

Trimble Funeral Home
Treiber Construction Co. and Johnson’s fellow co-workers
American Red Cross fire relief
K’nees Florist
Bicentennial Elementary School
Coal Valley Township Cemetery
Daryl Johnson
Walker Wisley
Bill Hinsburger
Patty Stevenson
The Eagles Club
Local Laborers Union
Pastor Jerry Dillon of Madison Mississippi and many others

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