A 79-year-old woman died early yesterday after a cigarette she was smoking caused a fire in her Northeast Washington rowhouse, D.C. fire officials said.
Rose Hill had been smoking on a cloth recliner, which caught fire, according to fire officials.
A neighbor saw smoke coming from the house in the 1200 block of Florida Avenue about 3:30 a.m. and ran to a nearby firehouse, said Alan Etter, spokesman for the D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department.
When firefighters arrived, they found Hill's 80-year-old brother on the first floor, smoking a cigar -- apparently oblivious to the fire that was burning upstairs, Etter said.
Hill was upstairs in her bed, not showing signs of life, Etter said. She was pronounced dead at the D.C. medical examiner's office, police said. Her brother was taken to a local hospital for observation but had no signs of injury, authorities said.
There were no working fire alarms in the house, Etter said.
Matters were complicated for firefighters because of a large amount of clutter in the house, according to Etter.
"There was a lot of debris -- newspapers, clothing, things like that," Etter said. "There were pack-rat conditions in there, which adds fuel to fire. It can be difficult for rescuers to find you in a situation like that."
Yesterday, the contents of the stone-covered house were strewn across the front yard in piles, and the front door was wide open. Two D.C. police officers sat in a patrol car in front of the house to deter looters.
A wooden sign that read "The Hills" swung inside a porch covered with bright green wood paneling.
Neighbors said Hill had lived in the house with her brother since they were teenagers. They said the home was passed down to them from their parents.
One neighbor, Shanel Morrisey, said she heard the firetrucks but didn't immediately see flames coming out of the house. "I was looking at it, then all of a sudden -- koosh! It went up in flames," Morrisey said.
Cathy Watts, who lives a few doors away, said Hill and her brother are retired federal workers.
Hill was the third person killed in a fire this year in the District. The first was Felita Harrington, 39, who died Jan. 4. She was discovered in the 10th-floor hallway of a building in the 900 block of New Jersey Avenue NW. The cause of the fire is still under investigation.
Bessie D. Sanders, 65, was killed Jan. 17 when her two-story brick rowhouse in the 900 block of Delafield Place NW caught fire. Investigators said that blaze was started by a candle.