Man dies in Basye fire
BASYE – A fire that sent home oxygen cylinders sailing hundreds of feet through the air took the life of a 56-year-old man in his home Thursday afternoon.
Those who lived with the victim, William Wright, said he died after years of struggling with pain and tedium caused by a lung ailment and other health problems.
The oxygen tanks that had helped keep Wright alive hindered efforts by firefighters to save his life after they were called to the modest single family residence at 490 Holly Ridge Road.
Firefighters found Wright’s body inside the home as they worked to extinguish the fire.
Wright rented the house with his sister, Janice Wright; her boyfriend, David Wright; and Janice Wright’s 10-year-old granddaughter, Alexis Pence, all of whom were away at the time of the fire.
Firefighters were called to the scene at 1:30 p.m. Shenandoah County Fire Marshal David Ferguson said Orkney Springs firefighters, the first on the scene, discovered the house fully enveloped in smoke and flame. Fire companies from Conicville, Mount Jackson, Woodstock, Edinburg, Broadway, Timberville and Shenandoah County helped bring the fire under control by 3 p.m.
Ferguson said the investigation remains open, but preliminary findings indicate the fire was accidental and caused by an improperly discarded cigarette.
Ferguson estimated the value of the home, owned by Jeremy Dawson of Mount Jackson, at $61,000.
Ferguson and the surviving house occupants said firefighters were hampered by 25 or 30 home oxygen cylinders, most of them stored in a crawl space under the structure. The fire burned through the floor and overheated the cylinders, some which exploded and landed as far as 200 feet from the house.
“We actually had missiles flying from the house out into the nearby area,” Ferguson said.
No firefighters were injured, but Ferguson said the result could easily have been otherwise.
“That was one of the most dangerous scenes I’ve been at in awhile as far as firefighter safety,” Ferguson said.
The Red Cross arranged for Janice and David Wright and Alexis Pence to stay in a motel room in Mount Jackson after the fire.
Janice Wright said it took her about a half hour to reach the scene after she was notified of the fire.
“They called me at work and said ‘your house is on fire,'” Janice Wright said.
David and Janice Wright said William Wright suffered from several serious afflictions, including Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, which required the use of the oxygen cylinders. Wright had also undergone hip replacement surgery, which led to a severe infection, and was a diabetic.
William Wright’s mobility was limited by his lung and hip problems. He required two or three oxygen cylinders to be taken along for trips to Wal-Mart, but his condition had improved since he moved into the Holly Ridge Road residence on Dec. 23, David Wright said.
Janice and David Wright and the firefighters found William’s lifeless body in a recliner chair. His luck had run out after several instances when he cheated death and surprised pessimistic doctors.
“They gave up on him so many times, but he bounced right back,” David Wright said. “It was a shame he went the way he did.”
Janice Wright said the fire destroyed everything owned by the four occupants, a loss that paled in comparison to the death of her brother.
“Everything we collected over 24 years was in that house,” she said. “I’d give everything up just to have him back.”
Ferguson said the house had one smoke detector in the hallway. He urged landlords and tenants to install smoke detectors in every bedroom, areas outside of bedrooms and on each floor.
Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or firstname.lastname@example.org