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Smoke inhalation killed woman in New Holland fire

Smoking or candles may have caused fatal fire

POSTED: February 4, 2008 5:02 a.m.
Tom Reed/The Times

Hall County Fire Marshall Scott Cagle walks up the front steps of a house in New Holland that was the scene of a fatal fire Tuesday evening.

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Authorities have narrowed the cause of a fire that claimed the life of a Gainesville woman Tuesday night to two possibilities: smoking or candles.

Diane Vinson, 55, died in the fire on East Main Street in a neighborhood of mill houses in the New Holland area of Gainesville, according to Hall County Coroner Marion Merck. An autopsy conducted Wednesday concluded that Vinson died from smoke inhalation, Merck said.

Firefighters responded to a call to No. 7 E. Main St. at 7:33 p.m. Tuesday, arriving within minutes to find the mill house nearly half-
consumed in flames.

Vinson was found dead in the floor of her bedroom a few minutes after firefighters entered the house, Hall County Fire Marshal Scott Cagle said. She lived alone. A family that lived in an adjoining unit of the house escaped the fire.

Fire investigators believe the blaze started in the bedroom.

On Wednesday, Cagle said the official cause may be undetermined, but that investigators believe either a lit cigarette or candles started the fire.

Vinson was known to be a heavy smoker, and authorities found cigarettes in a trash can in the bedroom, Cagle said.

Cigarette smoking is the top cause of fatal fires in the United States, Cagle said.

Authorities are leaning more toward an array of small "tea light" candles as the likely cause, however. Remnants of five of the candles and their aluminum bases were found on a shelf a few feet from the bed, Cagle said.

"Right now the candles are making more sense to us (as the cause), because of their proximity versus the cigarettes," Cagle said.

Fire investigators on Wednesday found the remnants of one smoke alarm in the living room area near the bedroom, but could not determine whether it had been working.


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