Saturday, February 7, 2004

House filled with junk traps woman in blaze



By Jim Hannah
The Cincinnati Enquirer

DAYTON, Ky. - A 75-year-old woman might have escaped from the flames engulfing her home early Friday had the exits not been blocked by mountains of mail she had kept for decades, fire officials said.

Her death, firefighters at the scene said, apparently occurred because the only path to out of her home was through the collection of "junk." The body of Jean Webb was recovered 10 to 15 feet from the front door. .

The boxes, newspapers, mail and other assorted items made it equally hard for firefighters to get into the house in the 900 block of Thornton Street.

"A lot of times, when we get a call to a fire, we find things that hamper our ability to fight the blaze," said Bellevue-Dayton Fire Chief Denny Lynn, "but I have never seen something like this. It was a mess trying to get in the house."

Firefighters climbed through an unobstructed window and knocked out the front door, Lynn said, but it was too late to save Webb. The state fire marshal was on the scene Friday morning, but local firefighters say the 3 a.m. blaze does not appear to be suspicious.

"I hate to say it because she was as nice as gold, but she was a packrat," said neighbor Walk Morris. "All that paper she had piled up made that house a giant matchbook. It went up quick."

Randy Pollitt, who did yard work for Webb, described the woman as someone who never let anyone into her home and was hardly ever seen outside.

"Some neighbors also tried to help out, but she wouldn't let them do much for her."

The kitchen was filled to the ceiling, blocking the back door. The rest of the two-story house had paper piled 3 to 4 feet high. The only room relatively clutter free was the dining room.

E-mail jhannah@enquirer.com




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