No working smoke detectors in house prior to fatal fire

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BELDING, Mich. (WOOD) — Firefighters say they found no working smoke detectors in the home where a woman died in an early-morning fire.

Relatives identified the victim as Barbara Anderson, 64, a great-grandmother who lived with her daughter.

Her daughter escaped by climbing through an upstairs window and jumping from a porch roof. She suffered minor injuries.

“The early warning [from smoke detectors] may have gotten both of them out,” Belding Fire Chief Gregg Moore said. “The initial smoke may have been enough to wake both of them and get them both out of the house.”

The fire was reported about 6 a.m. at a home at James and Ann streets, although it’s unclear when it actually started.

Fire crews say several oxygen tanks exploded in the home.

The victim was sleeping in a hospital bed, on oxygen, in the front living room, the chief said. He said the fire started either on or near her bed.

While firefighters haven’t been able to determine a cause, they believe she may have fallen asleep while smoking, Moore said.

“It was very common for [the victim] to smoke while on oxygen,” Moore said.

The neighbor who called 911 told 24 Hour News 8 she let her dogs out and went to use the restroom when she heard a “blood-curdling” scream for help.

“I looked across the street and it’s just flames flying out the window and there’s smoke everywhere,” said Lauren Pondell.

She then saw the woman who escaped from the fire in the driveway yelling “Help me!” and immediately called 911. While Pondell was on the phone with dispatchers, she said the neighbor yelled at her that someone was inside.

Pondell said someone delivered oxygen earlier this week and the residents do have a nurse who comes into the home.

“We did hear what sounded to be like explosions, we assume it was the oxygen tanks,” said Pondell.

It was only the fourth or fifth fatal fire in the fire chief’s 33 years at the department. He said firefighters found no smoke detectors during a search of the heavily damaged home.

“I can’t think of a time where we’ve ever lost anybody in a house that had smoke detectors,” he said. “When we do lose somebody, it’s either the smoke detectors weren’t there or they weren’t working.”

Relatives say the daughter was hurt when she jumped from the porch roof.

“She’s OK,” said Andrea Shepard, the victim’s daughter-in-law. “She’s going to get through it just like everybody else. We’re all going to be there to help her.”

She says her mother-in-law had moved to Belding to be closer to her grandchildren and great-granddaughter. She had retired from Frigidaire in Greenville.

“She would tell us probably to go on and live our life and be happy,” Shepard said. “That’s what she would have wanted.”

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