A 34-year-old Northeast Washington woman was killed yesterday in a pre-dawn fire. Another woman jumped to safety from a second-floor window and two young people saved themselves by clambering onto a ledge.
Yvonne Shelton died of smoke inhalation and burns suffered in the fire that started in a first-floor room and swept through the two-story row house at 330 10th St. NE shortly before 3 a.m., officials reported. Firemen said the blaze was caused by smoking, and estimated damage at $20,000.
"I kept telling her to jump, but she wouldn't," said Margaret Johnson, the victim's sister, who jumped from a second-floor window. "She could hardly talk or breathe because of the smoke."
Johnson, who was on crutches after spraining her ankle in the jump, said she was sleeping in a second-floor bedroom when she was awakened by the sound of breaking glass.
"I woke up and there was smoke everywhere," she said. "The lights had gone out. I could hear my neighbor, Kenneth Lowe, hollering and screaming: 'The house is on fire,' " she said.
After waking her sister, Johnson said, she ran into the front bedroom to wake her two sons. There was so much smoke in the hallway that she could not reach the room. But her sons, both in their mid-teens, had been awakened by the commotion and had climbed onto the ledge.
Johnson said that she and her sister broke out a back window in the second-floor bedroom. "I was holding her hand," Johnson said. "I kept telling her to jump but she wouldn't. Then I told her I would jump first and she could jump after me, so she could fall on me."
After jumping, Johnson beckoned for her sister to follow, but Shelton quickly was overcome by smoke. One of Johnson's sons and Lowe climbed onto the back porch of the house next door in an unsuccessful effort to reach Shelton.
Hudson Cain, the victim's father, who lives next door at 332 10th St., turned on his garden hose in a futile attempt to put out the fire as neighbors gathered to help.
After firefighters arrived, they carried Shelton from the second-floor bedroom. She was taken to the Washington Hospital Center, where she died four hours later.
Johnson said that Shelton's twin sister, Elaine, had died of natural causes five months ago.
"She had been very upset when her twin died," Johnson said. "They were extremely close."
"They were inseparable," said a neighbor, who was one of several who stopped by the victim's father's house last evening. "They were very popular."
Shelton also is survived by two brothers, Wynfred and Stanley Cain.