Woman dies in house fire, two others hospitalized

By Joe Beck

A 65-year-old Front Royal woman died in an early Thursday morning fire at her home at 1312 Edgemont Ave.

Fire Chief Richard E. Mabie said the victim, Phyllis Washington Smith, had already died by the time firefighters found her in a first floor bedroom inside the burning residence.

“We feel confident she succumbed to her injuries from the fire before we got there,” Mabie said in an interview.

Mabie said firefighters saved two of Smith’s relatives who were trapped inside the house with her. A third family member escaped on his own. Rescue crews treated two survivors at the scene for smoke inhalation, then transported them to Warren Memorial Hospital. They were released hours later.

Mabie said the fire was accidental, but its exact cause is still under investigation.

Smith reported the fire to emergency dispatchers at 3:55 a.m.

“It’s my understanding she was in bed, and she was on fire,” Mabie said.

A health problem had confined Smith to bed and prevented her from escaping, Mabie said.

“The only thing I know is that she couldn’t walk,” Mabie added.

Mabie said one of the surviving occupants, a boy in the basement, escaped on his own. Two other family members, a woman and girl, tried to escape but were forced back by smoke and heat into a room on the second floor from which firefighters removed them.

Damage to the home and its contents were estimated at about $100,000. Mabie said the survivors were receiving assistance from the Red Cross in finding alternate housing.

Mabie said the fire started in Smith’s bed, but its exact cause remains under investigation.

Smith was the second fire fatality in Warren County this year after a five-year period in which no deaths were recorded.

Mabie said faulty smoke detectors delayed the time when those in the home first noticed the fire and prevented an early escape.

“From what we could see, the house was equipped with three smoke alarms, but only the one in the basement was operational,” Mabie said.

As a result of Smith’s death, Mabie said firefighters from around the county will be walking door-to-door today through neighborhoods near their fire stations. They will be offering fire safety information and answer any related questions from residents.

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com