By Dave Russell
An elderly woman in the Greens Creek community died Friday in an early morning fire.
Someone driving by the residence at 14 Old Mater Farm Road called the fire into 911 dispatch at 1:23 a.m., according to Jackson County Fire Marshal Michael Forbis. The house is within a stone’s throw of the new Savannah Fire Department building.
Linda Lou James, 75, died when a fire started in the bathroom downstairs from where she was sleeping, Forbis said.
“It appears she was in bed,” Forbis said. “Judging by the orientation of her covers, it looks like she threw the covers back and went into the bathroom. We assume she may have gone into the bathroom because there was a fire or something going on and possibly did succumb to smoke inhalation, but we don’t know that.”
James was found in the bathroom, he said.
A cause of death had not been determined, Forbis said.
“We don’t know if she died due to something that happened in the bathroom or it was smoke inhalation,” he said. “They took her body down to Winston-Salem for an autopsy.
“We did a joint investigation with the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office and the State Bureau of Investigation and from everything we determined it started in the bathroom, which was downstairs,” he said. “It appeared to be an accidental fire involving an electrical heater.”
Savannah Fire Department had an “extremely quick response” time, Forbis said.
“It was eight minutes from when the call went out to when they first got on the scene because they were so close,” he said. “It was contained very quickly, the fire department did a great job with it. They did an exterior attack and then were able to gain entry into the house. The house was locked, so they had to do a forced entry.”
Mutual aid was provided by the Cullowhee, Sylva and Qualla fire departments, he said.
“You had fire damage in the kitchen and the bathroom, and then the rest of the house was just heat and smoke damage,” he said. “The upstairs of the house, which had three bedrooms, it was just smoke damage. Basically, everything up there was pretty pristine. The house was definitely not a total loss.”
James owned the home and lived alone. The four-bedroom house sits on about 2 acres with a tax value of about $100,000, according to Jackson County tax records.
“It’s another tragic fire,” Forbis said. “It’s just another example of why we want people to have smoke detectors in the house. I looked and maybe there was one, but I did not see a smoke detector in that house. This is the third fatality we have had in the county this year. We’re going into April with a fatality pretty much every month.”
A smoke alarm might not have helped in this situation, he said.
“We don’t know the entire situation,” Forbis said. “She was elderly and disabled because she was on oxygen, so it may not have made a difference.”