Maryland fire leaves smoldering questions

In an early morning fire Tuesday, July 29, blaring smoke detectors saved lives but still allowed several injuries–- one serious–- to occur at a home in Brunswick, Maryland.

Forced to flee through second floor windows, three members of the family at 206 Seventh Avenue were rushed to the hospital to be treated for burns and smoke inhalation. Daughter Ashley Beachley, 11, was airlifted to the Shriners Hospital for Children in Boston to be treated for third degree burns over fifty percent of her body. Ashley remained there until her release last week.

Family members, James Travis Jr, 12, and Florence Beachley, 65, were also treated for smoke inhalation and minor burns. While Florence has recovered, Travis–- who has cystic fibrosis–- is in terminal condition due to his disease, according to family friend Treasa Stocks. His condition was not affected by the fire. Two other family members were uninjured.

According to Deputy State Fire Marshall Joseph Zurolo, the fire is believed to have begun in the basement of the house and may have been smoldering for hours. The family became aware of the fire when smoke alarms began sounding, although according to Deputy Zurolo, a family member had been outside smoking a cigarette when he realized the fire was blazing through the house.

"It was an older house, so once a fire gets started, it can travel anywhere," says Zurolo. "There's nothing to stop it from spreading."

The fire, which was flaming by the time family members awakened, consumed the house entirely, and left up to $150,000 in damage, according to a report in The Gazette.

However, several of the Hook's questions are pending further investigation by lead investigator Deputy Tim Warner of Maryland's Metro Regional fire office, and calls to Warner have not yet been returned.

According to Zurolo, the smoke detectors were working, however, he knew neither the placement of the detectors nor the type and could not say at what point in the fire they went off.

Fire officials have reportedly ruled that the fire was accidental and caused by wiring in the basement.

Family friend Stocks, who has organized several donation efforts for the family, speculates that oxygen tanks stored in the house's basement could have fueled the fire. James Travis Jr. had just returned to Frederick Memorial Hospital for treatment of his cystic fibrosis prior to the fire, leaving medical equipment in the basement. According to Stocks, the family has been relocated to a house outside of Brunswick. While their former home was destroyed, family members did manage to recover photographs from the basement.

"The family is very humble, very appreciative," says Stocks. "They're recovering as much as possible."

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