A metro-east father and son died less than two weeks apart, leaving family and friends devastated.
Belleville Fire Chief Tom Pour confirmed Tuesday that a space heater started the fire at 21 S. 15th St., but he wasn’t sure if it was a machine malfunction or if combustible materials caught on fire. Both Bell and a second man who died in the fire, 55-year-old Michael Hangsleben, were unable to escape the house and died of smoke inhalation.
Witnesses said the trailer did not have a working furnace, and Bell and Hangsleben were using space heaters to keep themselves warm, Pour said. The trailer also did not have working smoke detectors.
Carole Zierenberg, James Bell’s ex-wife and Daniel Bell’s mother, said she couldn’t believe it when she heard about the men’s deaths.
“It’s just so sad, losing one and then losing the other,” Zierenberg said.
Zierenberg and James Bell were married for 10 years in the ’80s and stayed friendly after their divorce, Zierenberg said. The couple had three children between them, including Daniel Bell.
Both Bell men had worked at Standard Auto Body in Cahokia for Joe Stell — Daniel more recently, and James from the ’70s to the ’90s.
“I felt like (Daniel) was more like a son; he was a wonderful boy and a good worker,” Stell said. “I sure miss him, I can tell you that. He was as strong as an ox, and he would do anything for you.”
Stell said James Bell was a “good worker and a nice guy. It’s really sad.”
After the fire Monday, Pour said crews traversed a two-block radius from 11th Street to 17th Street in Belleville and installed 26 smoke detectors in that area.
“We’re always trying to get the word out: (Smoke detectors) are free,” Pour said. “We just need people to call us and request them.”
Space heaters are a common cause for winter fires, and Pour warned that people need to “give space heaters space.”
“Keep three feet of space around it,” he said. “If something, a blanket or pillow, falls off the bed and hits it, that’s all it takes.”
Daniel Bell’s family set up a GoFundMe to pay for his funeral expenses.
Steve Nagy: 618-239-2470