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More details out in suicide by fire

December 13, 2003|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

Fire officials released further information Friday from their investigation into a Nov. 30 blaze that took the life of one woman and injured others who were home at the time of the fire.

Brenda L. Hitt, 47, lived in a first-floor apartment at 39 E. North Ave. Investigators said Thursday she started the fire shortly before 10:16 a.m. that day. She died Tuesday at Washington (D.C.) Hospital Center from severe burns.

Dave Moyer, a neighbor of Hitt's, received slight burns while pulling Hitt from her apartment. Other residents were treated for smoke inhalation.

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The Washington, D.C., Chief Medical Examiner's Office on Thursday ruled Hitt's death a suicide.

Acting Hagerstown Fire Chief Rick Kipe said Moyer entered Hitt's apartment and found her suffering from burns near her bed, which was on fire.

Kipe and Hagerstown Fire Marshal Tom Brown said Moyer pulled Hitt through the apartment door into a hallway and out the front door. The fire grew once the door was opened, and windows in Hitt's apartment broke, adding more oxygen to the fire.

The flames remained solely in the bedroom, but other rooms received smoke and heat damage, fire officials said.

To determine the cause of the fire, Brown said he considered several possibilities, all of which were ruled out except that Hitt set the fire to cause injury to herself.

Brown said investigators sifted through debris in Hitt's bedroom to try to re-create the room before the fire began. They also considered Moyer's statements and interviews with neighbors and family members. Firefighters were not able to speak with Hitt.

Brown said there was no reason to believe that an accelerant - gasoline, kerosene or lighter fluid - was used, but he took a charred floor sample to his office. He also asked for a sample of Hitt's clothing from surgeons.

Brown said a trained dog with the State Fire Marshal's Office sniffed the samples and did not alert to any ignitable liquids.

Brown said smoke detectors functioned properly in the home, which alerted the other apartment residents to the fire.

Brown said "the importance of smoke detectors could be the prime benefit that we'd hope to be concluded out of this" investigation.

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