Living Hell - Volume #2, Issue #9


August 9, 2002

Special Smoke Detectors Save Lives Edition!


  o Introduction
  o June 9, 1974
  o January 17, 1974
  o February 21, 1973
  o October 5, 1973


A dear friend told me this week that she doesn't have smoke detec-
tors in her home.  My aghast response included the following four
stories, excerpted from the files of the Raleigh, Cary, and Garner
fire departments.  Read them now and then read them again in Octo-
ber, during Fire Prevention Week, and during which you'll be re-
minded to check the batteries in said detectors.  (Electric-powered
devices are a no-good, unless they're equipped with back-up batter-
ies.  You know, in case a fire is started by an *electrical short*.)
Smoke-detection technology 'taint new, nor are the following tales
of needless dying.  We begin on my birthday...

June 9, 1974

House fire at 1016 Wilshire Drive, Cary, kills three girls.  Fire is
reported at 3:45 a.m. and later determined caused by "careless smok-
ing."  Other occupants escape.  Fire starts downstairs and sends
"heavy smoke into the upstairs area" where the girls are sleeping,
reports the June 10 edition of The News and Observer.  Killed are
Susan Hagwood, 6, and her half sisters Shirley Hathaway, 15, and
Elizabeth Hathaway, 16.  All three girls die of smoke inhalation,
Wake County Coroner Truman Rhodes later reports.

January 17, 1974

House fire at 604 Queens Ferry Road, Cary, kills woman.  Fire is re-
ported at 3:46 a.m.  Firefighters find Marilyn Powell, 41, "lying
'between the stove and the back door in the kitchen, just 36 inches
from the back door'" reports the January 18 edition of The News and
Observer.  Mrs. Powell's twin teenage sons escape.  Police officer
arrives and attempts rescue, shooting through lock of outside door
to bedroom, but cannot enter because smoke is too thick.

February 21, 1973

House fire at 2721 Rothgeb Drive, Raleigh, kills 65-year old woman
and 4-year old boy.  Blaze begins around 1:00 a.m.  Raleigh Police
Sgt. C. R. Stinson and Police Officer J. R. Moody are first on the
scene but are unable to open the front door.  "'By the time I real-
ized the heat and smoke were so hot I knew I couldn't get in.  I
heard a woman hollering,'" Stinson later says, reports the February
21 edition of The News and Observer.  Racing around the house, he
finds a woman in a window "too far from the ground" to be reached.
Standing on something found "under the window," he helps Barbara R.
Topljak, 29, from the dwelling and is told of her two children in
the house. "'I was afraid if I let her go, she'd go back in there
and we would never get here,'" he later says.  Captain C. R. Lloyd
enters the house upon arrival of the Fire Department and finds "the
two children in one room" and Laura R. Wolff, 65, lying in another.
Stephen Topljak dies a few minutes after being transported to Rex
Hospital.  His brother Jack, age 5, is revived by ambulance atten-
dants while en route.  Mrs. Wolff is dead on arrival at the emer-
gency room.  Cause of fire is unknown.  The living room and kitchen
areas are gutted.  The victims are not burned.

October 5, 1973

House fire at 5717 Sharon St. Garner, kills woman and 5-year old
son.  Blaze breaks out about 9:45 a.m.  Virgil King Bordeaux, 31,
is found "lying over her son near a bedroom window" apparently try-
ing "to shield him from the smoke," reports the October 6 edition
of The News and Observer. Raleigh firefighter George Wrenn is paint-
ing a house nearby and tries in vain to find locate occupants after
seeing smoke coming from a side window.  Wrenn shouts to a neighbor
to "call the fire department," finds a ladder, and enters a "middle
bedroom" after breaking a window.  Heavy smoke hides the bodies of
the two victims, which is believed unoccupied at the time.  '"If I'd
only known there was a kid in the room,'" Wrenn later says "in a
voice choked with emotion."  Officials believe Mrs. Bordeaux tried
to telephone for help and "after leaving the telephone receiver on
the bed, she left the end bedroom and went to her son's bedroom.
There she realized how bad the fire was."  Fire damage is estimated
at $5,000 and is limited to the kitchen and parts of the hallway.
The fire is extinguished quickly by firefighters, who find the bod-
ies in about five minutes.  Smoke damage is heavy "throughout the
back bedrooms and the connecting hallway" with "one of two end bed-
rooms" "scarcely scorched by the smoke."   Fire Chief B. R. Poole
Jr. says "if Mrs. Bordeaux had pulled the door to the hallway shut,
there would have been a good chance that neither she nor her son
would have died" and "they probably would have had time to escape
through the bedroom window."  Two kittens and their mother are found
"huddled in the basement of the house" after firefighters leave the
scene, adds the October 10 edition of The Garner News.

Copyright 2002 by Michael J. Legeros




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