Unidentified Adult Found Dead After Rowhouse Blaze

By Paul Duggan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 19, 2008

An unidentified adult was found dead yesterday in a fire-gutted rowhouse in Northwest Washington, authorities said.

The victim, who was burned beyond recognition, was found on the second floor of the house in the 1000 block of Quebec Place in the Petworth area, said Alan Etter, a spokesman for the D.C. fire department. He said that firefighters could not determine whether the victim was a man or woman and that an autopsy would be needed to determine the cause of death.

Etter said neighbors told investigators that the house is owned by an elderly woman who lives in a nursing home and that a daughter of the woman had been staying in the residence. The daughter, who is unaccounted for, was described as being in her 50s, Etter said.

The fire broke out on the first floor and was reported by neighbors shortly after 8 a.m., Etter said. It was extinguished within an hour.

The house did not have working smoke detectors, Etter said. He said it was "cluttered with debris -- boxes, stacks of newspapers, magazines, bags of clothing, all kinds of stuff." The "pack-rat conditions" helped the blaze accelerate to the second floor and through the roof and "made for a difficult search," Etter said.

"Firefighters were able to get into the first floor . . . but the discovery of holes in the floor required a steady and deliberate response," Etter said. When firefighters reached the second floor, they found the body in a rear enclosed porch area.

On the first floor, Etter said, firefighters found a large dog in a cage covered with debris. The dog, suffering from serious burns and smoke inhalation, was removed by firefighters, covered with blankets and given oxygen, Etter said. It was turned over to D.C. animal control officers for further treatment.

The fire's cause remains under investigation. The rowhouses on either side of the gutted residence were heavily damaged, and a firefighter was treated at the scene for exhaustion, Etter said.

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