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Cigar butt eyed as cause of fatal fire

November 02, 1997

By DON AINES

Staff Writer, Martinsburg

LEETOWN, W.Va. - A smoldering cigar butt is believed to be the cause of a Saturday night fire that claimed the lives of an elderly Jefferson County couple, according to West Virginia State Police.

"We believe the cause of the fire was an improperly discarded cigar," Independent Volunteer Fire Co. Assistant Chief Donald Longerbeam said Sunday.

The cigar fell between the cushions of a chair in the living room, he said, causing the fire that killed William Reavis, 93, and his 74-year-old wife Naomi.

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"It appears the residents tried to put the fire out and succumbed to the smoke," said Trooper R.T. Shockey, who investigated the scene Sunday with Longerbeam and West Virginia State Fire Marshal Mack Dennison. He said he believed they died of smoke inhalation.

The fire at the Harry Shirley Road home was discovered by a passerby and reported at 7:22 p.m., according to fire officials. William Reavis was found in the living room, where the fire originated, and his wife was found in a back room off the kitchen, Longerbeam said.

"We don't know if someone fell asleep or what," said Shockey.

Neighbor Dennis Gue said Saturday that William Reavis smoked cigars and "had a habit of dropping cigars or falling asleep with them and burning his hands."

According to the preliminary findings of the investigation, the couple had apparently tried to put out the fire before being overcome by smoke. Longerbeam said a tea kettle was found next to William Reavis on the couch.

He was in a sitting position and Longerbeam said the heat from the fire may have knocked him backward onto the couch.

Naomi Reavis had burns on her hands and apparently was trying to escape the house when she was overcome by the smoke, Longerbeam said. She was taken to Jefferson Memorial Hospital, where she was pronounced dead.

Neither Longerbeam nor Shockey knew whether autopsies would be performed on the couple.

Longerbeam said the fire heavily damaged the living room, kitchen and a bathroom. He estimated the damage to the one-story brick house at about $50,000.

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