El­derly wo­man dies alone in house fire

Blaze re­port­edly caused by lit cig­a­rettes started in liv­ing room

The Covington News - - Front Page - By Michelle Kim

An el­derly wo­man who lived alone and pos­si­bly suf­fered from Alzheimer’s dis­ease died in a fire early Fri­day morn­ing af­ter call­ing 911 for help, ac­cord­ing to the New­ton County Fire De­part­ment.

Fire­fight­ers dis­cov­ered her body in the of­fice room of her home at 90 Emily Trace, near Oak Hill Drive, said NCFD Chief Mike Sat­ter­field. She ap­peared to have died from smoke in­hala­tion, he said, but an au­topsy will pro­vide the fi­nal con­clu­sions.

The vic­tim, de­scribed as a white wo­man in her 70s, called 911 around 8:15 a.m. say­ing she had knocked over a trash bin that had a still-burn­ing cig­a­rette and her sofa was on fire.

“Any kind of up­hol­stered furniture puts off a tremen­dous amount of toxic smoke,” Sat­ter­field said.

The next-door-neigh­bors, the Skin­ner fam­ily, were pre­par­ing for a yard sale that day and saw the smoke when Keith Skin­ner went out­side to warm up his truck be­fore work. He ran over and kicked down the front door while the rest of the fam­ily called 911 and beat on the win­dows to try and wake her up.

“I crawled through the kitchen but couldn’t see noth­ing,” said the shaken look­ing fa­ther, who still had traces of soot on his face.

Fire crews ar­rived six min­utes af­ter the wo­man’s call and found flames com­ing from the front door and the liv­ing room en­gulfed in flames.

“There was the thick­est black smoke you’ve ever seen,” said Paul Pass­more, one of the first fire­fight­ers to ar­rive on the scene. He said had a bad feel­ing as they pulled up to the home. “It didn’t look good.”

The 14 fire­fight­ers on the scene con­ducted mul­ti­ple searches at the same time, start­ing with the bed­rooms, while bat­tling the fire and were able to get the one-alarm blaze un­der con­trol in about 15 to 20 min­utes, ac­cord­ing to Sat­ter­field.

But by then, it was too late.

They dis­cov­ered the wo­man’s body in what ap­peared to be an of­fice room of the one-story res­i­dence, which sus­tained heavy dam­age but was not burned to the ground. The heat from the fire melted some of the aluminum sid­ing of the house and gut­ted most of the build­ing.

“I hate it,” said Pass­more, of los­ing the vic­tim to the fire. What par­tic­u­larly both­ered him, he said, was the idea that she might have been too mod­est to run out­side un­dressed.

Neigh­bors Bar­bara Spe­har and Heather Wad­dell said the vic­tim was one of the orig­i­nal home­own­ers when the quiet neigh­bor­hood was first built. She re­port­edly had a daugh­ter who lived in the area and a care­taker who came dur­ing the day, but had been home­bound for the last cou­ple of years with Alzheimer’s and rarely came out ex­cept to get the mail.

“I just can’t imag­ine,” ex­claimed Wad­dell, putting her hand to her face at the thought of dy­ing in the fire.

She de­scribed her as a “spunky lit­tle lady” who, be­fore the Alzheimer’s set in, would mow her own lawn.

Au­thor­i­ties are with­hold­ing the vic­tim’s name un­til all the fam­ily can be no­ti­fied.

This is the sec­ond fire death of the year in New­ton County, com­pared to one fire death last year, and the sec­ond case of an el­derly res­i­dent who lived alone dy­ing from a fire ac­ci­den­tally started by cig­a­rettes.

Gar­land Um­berger, 73, of 316 Elks Club Road, died in the early hours of Feb. 17 in a blaze that might have started when he fell asleep smok­ing. His ren­o­vated his­toric home had no smoke de­tec­tors, ac­cord­ing to the New­ton County Fire De­part­ment, and his body was dis­cov­ered three feet from the front door.

Any­one who needs a free smoke de­tec­tor or has ques­tions about their smoke de­tec­tors can con­tact the fire de­part­ment at (770) 784-2116.

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Michelle Kim/The Cov­ing­ton News

Fa­tal fire: New­ton County Fire­fight­ers found the vic­tim’s body in the of­fice room (pic­tured) at 90 Emily Trace, where the vic­tim lived alone.

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