Victor Caballero of Handyman 2 the Rescue and his “granddog” Cujo demolish the burned deck on April 9. Photo by Abby Hoover

Following an early morning fire on April 5, Northeast neighbors are stepping up to help one of their own repair the damage.

Indian Mound residents say fire investigators suspect arson was the cause of the residential fire at the southeast corner of the Indian Mound.

The homeowner, Christopher Kiefer, made it out safely and called 9-1-1 around 5:43 a.m. on Monday as both the fire department and the police department responded.

“He called me shortly after that,” said Kiefer’s sister, Rita Kiefer Medall, who lives in California. “It was four o’clock in the morning here, so I knew that something was wrong and I felt shocked and sad because there isn’t anything I could do.”

She did a lot of praying on Monday and checked in with him on and off throughout the day.

“That is our childhood home, we’ve been in that house,” Medall said. “That was our parents’ home since 1961. He was four when he moved there.”

After suffering from a stroke years ago, Kiefer developed a speech impediment, which makes it hard for others to understand him.

“It’s difficult for me to talk to him because of the speech impediment, and then things left over from the stroke,” Medall said. “Sometimes he gets excited and he talks really fast, and then you can’t understand him.”

Medall spent all of Tuesday morning on the phone with Kansas City, trying to get in touch with fire inspectors, utility companies and others who can offer assistance. She described the experience as a nightmare trying to get inspectors on site to approve reinstating the electricity.

Her brother wasn’t getting anywhere with the City to get his electricity back on because without power, he couldn’t use the internet. She said it’s been hard trying to get any information because of all the automated messages.

“I’ve done computer analytics, and it was not as clear as they say,” Medall said, adding that she eventually got through to someone who helped her through the process and followed through to the end. “The first thing is my brother’s safety and to get the house repaired.”

The majority of the damage is to the front facade of the house, and a small electrical issue in that wall and damage just inside the front door. Kiefer called The Northeast News on Monday afternoon looking for an electrician to fix the issues so his power could be reinstated.

While structurally the house is safe, Kiefer doesn’t drive anymore and is on disability. His sister is considering setting up a GoFundMe.

“I found out that the insurance had lapsed on the house, so he has no insurance for the repairs,” Medall said. “I’m older than he is and I’m currently out of work, and my husband is 75 and retired. I don’t have any funds to pay for this either.”

Medall hoped the community’s goodwill would produce a miracle to get the vinyl siding replaced and other repairs made, and the community came through for them.

“There’s asbestos shingles underneath there, which is probably why the fire did not penetrate the house,” Medall said. “I’m not much help because I’m in California and I’ve been here since 1985, so I don’t really have anybody who can [help].”

Victor Caballero of Handyman 2 the Rescue and his “granddog” Cujo demolish the burned deck on April 9. Photo by Abby Hoover

Victor Caballero of Handyman 2 the Rescue stepped up to organize volunteers and supplies. He has spent the past few days at the house, despite the rain, tearing off the melted siding and burned wood porch.

Longtime First District Jackson County Legislator Scott Burnett  and Stuart Bullington with Kansas City’s Housing and Community Development Division, also volunteered labor, and Northeast Alliance Together (NEAT) donated some materials.

In addition to replacing siding, gutters, a mailbox and storm windows, the crew will pour a concrete pad and install a railing to replace the wooden porch. They’re still looking for volunteers and donations.

“Anybody who would be willing to help would be such a blessing, anybody who had any abilities – or anything in the community – that would be able to help repair this vinyl siding for him,” Medall pleaded on Tuesday.

Caballero, who grew up in Northeast, took a break Saturday to volunteer at the NEAT Spring Cleanup at Lykins Park. He started his own business in January 2021, and does electricity, plumbing, and basically anything except roofing.

“My mom’s a business owner, she owns a couple salons, she kind of motivated me to start my own business,” Caballero said.

He was encouraged to volunteer his time while things are slow. He likes practice, and wants to eventually fix up homes in the area. Caballero encourages volunteers to join him on Sunday, April 11 starting at 9 a.m. to install siding.

“Mainly my goal is helping single widows or people who just don’t know so that they don’t get charged these outrageous rates,” Caballero said. “What better way to help in the community?”

Debris from the fire was picked up Saturday. Photo by Abby Hoover

Medall suspects foul play, and is trying to verify events with police.

“The fact that the fire was set on the front porch between the bedroom window and the front door, and when he tried to get out the front door, he couldn’t get out the front door,” Medall said. “He was the only one there, he’s the only one that lives there.”

The house is on a slope, so when the front door was blocked, Kiefer took the basement stairs to the back door.

“It’s a full flight of stairs down, and so whoever did this knew that he was handicapped and that he would have trouble navigating steps down,” Medall said. “But he did, he went through the basement because that was the closest door, and then animals followed him to the basement, and he got out through the basement door. The dog got out with him. The cat ended up hiding in the basement, but the cat is okay.”

Kiefer has also been contacting the City about putting up cameras to monitor Indian Mound Park and deter crime. He thinks that had the City actually had cameras up there, then they might have been able to see who did this to the front of his house.

“I know that there’s been a lot of crime happening around the Indian Mound and that there have been dead bodies found around there,” Medall said. “It wasn’t that way when we were growing up, really sad thing. He’s been pushing the City, as have other people in the neighborhood for some cameras around the Indian Mound because it has to become just a haven for crime.”

Medall said she wouldn’t be surprised if the fire was started by the same vandals who he frequently calls the police on at Indian Mound Park. Police and fire officials were not available for comment at the time of publishing.

For anyone interested in volunteering time, supplies or other resources to Kiefer as he deals with the aftermath of the fire, Medall asks that they contact The Northeast News for her contact information. Tips should be shared with police.