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Two die in W.Va. house fire

November 02, 1997

By CLYDE FORD

Staff Writer

LEETOWN, W.Va. - An elderly couple died in a blaze at their home on Harry Shirley Road Saturday night despite efforts by firefighters to save them.

The deceased were identified as William Reavis, 93, and Naomi Reavis, 74, hospital officials said.

Neighbors described the couple as quiet, shy people who kept to themselves.

A passerby discovered the house, about a mile from Leetown Road, was on fire about 7:22 p.m., fire officials said.

Independent Fire Co. Assistant Chief Donald Longerbeam said some volunteer firefighters who live in the area immediately went to the house while other firefighters came from the station.

The first firefighters had firefighting gear, but were unable to go inside the house because of the heat and smoke, Longerbeam said.

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They did not have portable oxygen tanks with them. The tanks are carried on the fire engines.

"They were unable to do anything. If they had gone in, we would have lost more people," Longerbeam said.

One firefighter attempted to enter the house, but was quickly driven back out, Longerbeam said.

He was treated at the scene for smoke inhalation.

The first fire engine arrived at 7:37 p.m.

A search team with air tanks crawled inside and found William Reavis dead on the sofa, Longerbeam said.

They continued searching the house and found Naomi Reavis in a back bedroom, Longerbeam said.

They carried her out and witnesses said the firefighters performed CPR in an attempt to save her.

She was loaded into an ambulance and rushed to Jefferson Memorial Hospital, where she was pronounced dead, said nursing supervisor Susan Shackelford.

The cause of the fire was still under investigation, Longerbeam said. West Virginia State Police and the West Virginia State Fire Marshal's Office will continue the investigation today, he said.

Neighbors said that William Reavis said they did not know what started the blaze, but said that William Reavis smoked a box of cigars a week.

"He had a habit of dropping cigars or falling asleep with them and burning his hands," said next door neighbor Dennis Gue, 37.

The fire is believed to have started in the living room, at the front of the house, Longerbeam said.

The fire may have smoldered at length before bursting fully into flames, Longerbeam said.

Investigators believe, based on the burn patterns left by the fire, that the blaze quickly burned up all the flammable materials in the house in a hot, intense fire, Longerbeam said.

The heat and smoke were trapped inside by the home's brick walls and double-pane windows, Longerbeam said.

The exterior of the house showed little damage from the fire.

Firefighters used less than 100 gallons of water to put out the blaze because it had mostly burned itself out, Longerbeam said.

Firefighters from South Berkeley, Citizens, and Independent fire companies fought the blaze.

Longerbeam said stress counselors would be brought in if any of the firefighters need assistance.

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