D.C. fire investigators brought in the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to help find the cause, although officials familiar with the inquiry are exploring whether the fire started accidentally.
A fire department spokesman would only confirm a fatality and say that the house was occupied by a couple. On Thursday night, D.C. police identified the victim in a media statement as Lucille Proctor, 80.
The fire was reported about 5:30 a.m. and extinguished about 30 minutes later.
A photo taken at the scene shows a wall of orange flames filling the front porch and heavy smoke billowing from the back roof. It was the District’s first fire fatality this year; seven people died in fires in 2013.
Clarence Wharton, 74, who lives across the street, said the victim’s husband called Wednesday night to invite him and his wife, Sadie, to dinner the following evening.
Wharton said he next saw the husband on the sidewalk as his home burned.
He said that the husband once worked at Brooks Brothers pressing clothes; his wife had worked for a cleaning company.
Wharton was unsure how long the couple were married, but he said that they were already living in the house when he moved to the street in 1975.
He said they had three children, more than a half-dozen grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
Another neighbor alerted him to the fire, and as he watched, he said, “I was just hoping they got out, but she didn’t make it.”
Rudolph White, pastor of New Southern Rock Baptist Church, said the couple were parishioners when he arrived 25 years ago. He said that the wife had stopped coming regularly because of illness but that her husband kept active, helping with Sunday school and Bible study and welcoming people to services. White said the husband had slowed a bit lately because of his deteriorating health.
White added that the husband knew just about everybody at the church, which is about eight blocks from Fourth Street, near Sherman Circle.
White last talked to him about a week ago, when they searched the church for his misplaced coat.
“He was trying to do things with his family, and he was also doing things with the church to try to help us out,” the pastor said.
Aaron Davis contributed to this report.
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