CHESTER, Maine — Oxygen-dispensing medical equipment and other flammable items combined with a lit cigarette caused an accidental fire in a Loop Road trailer that killed a 77-year-old woman last month, officials said Friday.
Shirley Day died on April 10 due to carelessness with smoking materials and a combination of occurrences that by themselves likely would have been harmless, said Sgt. Tim York of the fire marshal’s office.
“You take one piece away and you don’t have the event,” York said Friday.
Elderly and ailing, Day was in her family’s home on Loop Road having just received her daily medication from her grandson, 35-year-old Jason Ryder, on April 10. Day’s husband, Ralph Day, had died about a month before, and Ryder had moved in with her to tend to her day-to-day needs, firefighters and neighbors said.
Ryder had left the trailer when Day apparently lit a cigarette. The narrow, oxygen-enriched environment of the trailer combined with the embers of the cigarette to ignite a fire in the living room area in which Day was resting, York said.
Investigators determined that the oxygen from the breathing apparatus caused the bedding and other materials around Day to burn at a substantially accelerated rate, York said. The trailer itself also was at least 16 years old, neighbors said.
When Ryder returned, he found the home in flames and called 911. Neighbors said that the flames and smoke were so intense that no one could have gotten through the doorway. Firefighters from Lincoln, whom Chester pays to handle emergencies, Mattawamkeag and Howland went to the home.
The trailer was a total loss. Firefighters found Day’s body in the trailer about 10 feet from the door. It appeared that she was heading away from it, York said.
Investigators can only guess why.
Day’s apparently having moved away from the door is “not uncommon given that she was probably disoriented” in the smoke and flames,” York said.
“We are surmising that she might have been headed there to turn off the equipment or to stop what she perceived to be the source of the fire,” he added.
State police assisted in the investigation. Investigators spent several weeks interviewing witnesses, awaiting a report from the medical examiner’s office and handling other cases, York said.
A spokesman for the medical examiner’s office said he could not comment on the case because the final autopsy report was not available.