Investigators return to fatal fire scene

HOWLAND – Investigators returned Saturday to the scene of a fatal fire on DeForest Avenue S.E., and took statements from witnesses.

Township fire Chief James Pantalone said an investigator with the state Fire Marshal’s office were looking at an oxygen tank as possibly causing the Friday evening fire, because of the way the flames spread so quickly. Crews did remove an oxygen tank from the home.

Killed was Joyce Barker, 71, who lived in the house at 1393 DeForest Ave. S.E.

”We’ve got crews inside investigating, trying to see if we can find an area of origin. Kind of piece together the puzzle,” Pantalone told WYTV 33 News.

Pantalone said Barker was on an oxygen tank and was also a smoker.

“We are looking at that. Just to piece it into the puzzle to see if that was a contributing factor or not,” he said.

Family members said Barker rarely used the oxygen and hadn’t used it in a long time.

“Never used it often. Sometimes she does, sometimes she don’t,” said her son, David Morris, who lived with Barker.

Barker told the Tribune Chronicle he was not home at the time of the fire. He said a sister had called him, but he did not say how the sister knew of the fire.

Several people passing by, including two Niles police officers, tried to get inside to rescue Barker but they could not make it in because of the intense flames and smoke. Firefighters also could not find her when they arrived.

Barker’s body was found in a back bedroom more than an hour after they were first called.

Neighbors said Friday that Barker kept to her herself and did not come outside much and one of them did not even know her name.

Passer-by John Krok said Friday he stopped when he saw flames, knocked but got no response. When a neighbor told him someone was in there, he reported that to 911.

”I didn’t hear anything and I tried to get in but there was too much smoke,” Krok said. ”The flames shot out 20 feet and wires were falling down.”

Niles police Capt. Jason Holland and Lt. Rob Meketa responded when hearing the call and also tried to get inside.

”We we’re in the back trying to smash the windows open, but the wires were falling down,” Holland said. He said the smoke and flames prevented him and Meketa from getting inside.

Barker’s death was the first fire fatality in Trumbull County in 2013. There have been three other fire deaths in the Mahoning Valley, one in Youngstown Jan. 17 and two in North Jackson early Sunday morning.

A family in Bazetta was displaced Monday evening when fire gutted their Larry Lane mobile home, and four families were displaced Saturday when a fire broke out in an attic area of their condominum.