Cigarette blamed for Anchorage fatal fire

Posted: Tuesday, June 05, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- The Memorial Day fire that killed a couple in their Anchorage home was caused by a carelessly discarded cigarette, a fire department investigation found.

Danny and Gina Dennard were trapped in their basement bedroom and died of smoke inhalation the morning of May 28.

Both smoked. One of them must have gotten up during the night and smoked in a chair in the family room, said fire inspector Cleo Hill. It appears a cigarette was lodged between the chair's cushion and wood frame, where it smoldered, perhaps for a few hours, before igniting the chair, Hill said. Burn patterns on the chair are consistent with that theory, she said.

From the chair, the fire spread to wooden supports in the ceiling and then to the wood paneling on the walls, she said.

''Once it reached ignition temperature, it spread pretty rapidly,'' Hill said. The inspector found no evidence of smoke detectors in the house.

Had the couple had a working smoke detector, they probably would have been warned early enough to get out, she said. Instead they were trapped in their bedroom, where the only windows were too small and too high up for anyone to escape from.

''Several things went wrong here,'' Hill said.

The couple's grown daughter, whose bedroom was on the ground floor, got out safely.

Improperly discarded cigarettes are the leading cause of house fires, Hill said. This spring, several Anchorage fires were started by cigarettes that someone tried to put out in potting soil or flower beds, where the ground is peat and smolders.

A fire April 27 fire that burned an apartment complex most likely was started by a cigarette discarded in a balcony planter, Hill said.

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