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Shed Fire Kills Boy, Injures Another Firefighters Had Already Warned Family Not To Let Anyone Sleep There

An 11-year-old boy was killed and his 15-year-old friend seriously burned when a small metal shed that served as a bedroom caught fire early Monday in the Spokane Valley.

Jeffrey Himes “just didn’t make it out” when the fire started about 1 a.m., said assistant Valley Fire Chief Karl Bold.

“He went the wrong way and got caught in a corner.”

Brent Connely, 15, was in serious condition late Monday in the intensive care unit at Seattle’s Harborview Medical Center. A hospital spokesman said he was burned on the face, head, hands and back.

Valley firefighters said it was the second time in four months they had been called to a fire at the shed, which Brent used as a bedroom. Bold described the shed as “something you’d put your lawn mower in.”

No one was injured in the October fire, which was caused by a space heater. At that time, firefighters warned the family not to let anyone sleep there again, Bold said.

Monday’s fire at 502 S. Custer was caused either by a portable heater or cigarettes, said Bold.

Members of Jeffrey’s family said they didn’t know he would be sleeping in the shed when they agreed to let him spend the night at the Connely home.

Brent and Jeffrey became friends last year when Jeffrey lived across the street with his mother, three brothers and a sister.

Brent Connely’s family could not be reached for comment. A Harborview spokesman said the teenager’s parents were at the hospital Monday.

Neighbors said Brent slept in the shed - in his mother’s back yard - every night. He often was joined by other children.

“There’s a whole pile of kids running around here,” said neighbor Joyce Harvey.

A 12-year-old Spokane girl said she spent a night at the Connely house earlier this month after running away from her own home. That night, she said, seven children slept in the house and three others, including Brent, slept in the shed.

The children included two other runaways, the girl said.

Susan Syrie, who was visiting relatives on the Connelys’ block, said she saw two boys running from the yard shortly after the fire started.

Harvey didn’t know how many children are in Brent Connely’s family, but said the house is crowded. Tax records show the single-story, two-bedroom home has 624 square-feet of space.

The sheet-metal shed was about 10 feet by 10 feet. It was insulated, Harvey said, and equipped with a television, refrigerator and the heater - all powered by an extension cord strung from the house.

Brent sometimes cooked inside with a Coleman camp stove, Harvey said.

A school counselor said Brent sometimes complained that he had trouble keeping warm at night. The low temperature Monday morning was minus-4 degrees.

Beverly Biegel, a counselor at Jantsch alternative high school, said Brent often fell asleep during classes and complained that the cold made it difficult to sleep at night.

School officials knew he slept in a shed, she said.

“He had trouble getting to school on time and he said it was because there was no alarm clock there,” she said. “We talked about getting him an alarm clock.”

A fifth-grade student, Jeffrey Himes recently transferred from Sheridan Elementary School to Linwood Elementary. He joined a boxing club not long ago and liked to draw, said his sister, Michelle Himes, 18.

He spent much of the weekend outside, playing in the snow with his brothers.

“He was like every other 11-year-old,” said his aunt, Susan Himes. “He was a good kid.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo

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