- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
A Tuesday night house fire claimed the life of a 66-year-old Indian Head woman and her dog, while displacing seven of her family members and sending a volunteer firefighter to a regional burn unit with second-degree burns to his arm.
Geraldine R. Key was in her first-story bedroom with the family dog at 10:17 p.m. when combustible materials, most likely clothing on the floor, came in contact with a kerosene space heater and caught fire, the Maryland State Fire Marshal’s Office reported.
Flames and smoke trapped Key and the dog inside the room, and prevented family from saving them. The family members — three adults and four children — were able to escape the one-story cinder block house, in the 5300 block of Stuckey Road, and call 911.
A smoke alarm outside the bedroom activated when family members opened the door in an attempt to reach Key.
The blaze spread quickly, engulfing the home by the time volunteer firefighters arrived from departments in Marbury, Bryans Road, Potomac Heights, Nanjemoy, Bel Alton and Stump Neck Naval Station.
Soon after their arrival, the house collapsed on itself and prevented firefighters from entering. Damage to the destroyed home, which had a partial living space in the attic, was estimated at $80,000.
One firefighter from the 10th District Volunteer Fire Department in Pisgah suffered second-degree burns to his right arm and hand and was treated and released from the burn center at MedStar Washington Hospital Center in Washington, D.C., department President and Chief of Safety Chuck Burroughs said.
Another family member arrived after the fire and experienced chest pains. He was taken to a local hospital for evaluation.
Key’s body was taken to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Baltimore. A preliminary report determined smoke inhalation and burns to be the cause of her death.
Standing near the remains of the home Wednesday morning, Key’s son, Edward, described his mother, saying, “She was beautiful,” and that she was the type of person who “took care of everyone.”
The American Red Cross is assisting the family, providing emergency shelter and financial assistance to pay for food, clothing and other necessities lost in the fire, according to a news release.
Red Cross caseworkers will follow up with everyone affected by the blaze until their immediate needs have been met, the release states.
Burroughs said that fuel-fired space heaters are designed to be used indoors but the rooms they’re placed in need to be well-ventilated, and that the heaters, “whether it be propane or kerosene, they need to make sure they’re away from combustibles.”
The heaters also should be kept away from small children and set up so that they can’t easily tip over, Burroughs said.
Refueling should always be done outside, and residents should always ensure they’re using the appropriate fuel — using the wrong fuel could lead to “disastrous results,” Burroughs said.
“First and foremost,” residents should ensure that they have working smoke alarms in their homes and replace the batteries twice a year, Burroughs said.
Staff writer Gretchen Phillips contributed to this report.