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CORONA NORCO : Cause of Fatal Fire Believed to Be Cigarette

April 09, 1985|BARRY SURMAN | Times Staff Writer

A house fire that killed a wheelchair-bound Norco woman probably was caused by a dropped cigarette, fire officials said Monday.

Arvella Howe, 77, apparently lit a cigarette when she finished breakfast in her Corona Avenue home late Sunday morning, said Capt. Patrick Murphy of the Norco Fire Department.

When Howe dropped the cigarette, her clothes began to smolder, then ignited, Murphy said. Although a neighbor managed to extinguish the fire with a garden hose before it could spread through the house, Howe was found dead at the scene.

An autopsy performed Monday showed that Howe's trachea was badly scorched, said Doug McCoy, deputy Riverside County coroner. "Evidently she inhaled the flames and the smoke that were there," he said.

Howe did not suffer a heart attack or stroke that would have caused her to drop the lit cigarette, McCoy added.

The fire "destroyed her clothing (and) wheelchair, a chair next to her and some carpet," Murphy said, and caused only light smoke damage to other parts of the house. He estimated the damage to the house and its contents at $600.

Riverside County sheriff's deputies are investigating the incident, Murphy said, to confirm their theory that the fire was accidental.

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