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Charles Town woman killed in house fire

March 31, 2003|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - A 73-year-old woman was killed early Sunday when fire destroyed her log home in the John Brown Farm subdivision, fire officials said.

Because the fire was so involved when firefighters arrived at the scene, there was little they could do, said Scott Knill, chief of the Blue Ridge Mountain Volunteer Fire Co.

"Basically, it was a defensive attack," Knill said.

Rescue officials had to wait until firefighters extinguished the blaze before the search for the woman could begin, Knill said.

It took about two hours to extinguish the blaze, which was reported about 4:30 a.m., Knill said.

Kim Sencindiver, a Berkeley County resident who helps run a K-9 rescue team, brought a search dog to the scene to find the woman, Knill said.

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The woman's body was found in the basement of the home, Knill said.

The John Brown Farm subdivision is next to Shannondale, a large subdivision on Blue Ridge Mountain east of Charles Town.

The woman's house was on Forest Drive, a gravel road that winds through a wooded area. It was a ranch-style log home that was about 10 years old, Knill said.

Officials delayed releasing the name of the woman Sunday until a positive identification could be made, said Mack Dennis, assistant state fire marshal.

Officials hope to make positive identification of the woman this morning when an autopsy is conducted on the body at the state Medical Examiner's office in Charleston, W.Va., Dennis said.

Several neighbors noticed the fire and tried to help the woman, according to officials and neighbors.

Neighbors Justin and Tami Bailey said a woman came to their house and began beating on the door, telling them to call 911. The Baileys said they assumed the woman came up the road to see what was burning and began pounding on the door when she realized the woman's house was on fire.

Justin Bailey said he went to the woman's house to get a closer look.

"It was gone," Bailey said.

One neighbor smashed a window on the woman's house and yelled inside, Dennis said.

There was no response.

The neighbor then kicked in a basement door, Dennis said. The man looked inside and noticed the floor was starting to cave in, Dennis said.

"Thank goodness he had the sense to stay out or we would have had two of them," Dennis said.

Because the home sustained excessive damage, investigators may never be able to determine what caused the fire, Dennis said.

The woman used oxygen tanks to breathe, and one neighbor said he thought he could hear tanks in the house exploding during the fire, Dennis said.

Because the roof of the house already had caved in by the time firefighters arrived, Dennis said he believes the fire had been burning for a long time.

Justin and Tami Bailey described the woman as a friendly neighbor who waved when she passed their house in her white Jaguar.

The woman enjoyed animals and would give biscuits to dogs in the neighborhood, Tami Bailey said.

The woman had been in and out of the hospital and had just came back home last Thursday, the Baileys said.

The woman's husband died about six years ago and she had been living alone in the house, fire officials and neighbors said.

About 30 firefighters from Blue Ridge, Brunswick, Md., Citizens Fire Co. in Charles Town, W.Va., Independent Fire Co. in Ranson, W.Va., and Friendship Fire Co. in Harpers Ferry, W.Va., battled the blaze, Knill said.

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