Smoke detectors blamed in fire death

Photo by Scott Bewick

Photo by Scott Bewick

Assistant Dearborn Fire Marshall Larry Dishaw (right) speaks with a board-up contractor after investigating a fatal house in the 5500 block of Williamson last week. Dishaw said the house had no working smoke detectors.

Times-Herald Newspapers

DEARBORN — A 67-year-old woman who had trouble walking died last week when she was apparently unable to escape a fire in her house in the 5500 block of Williamson.

Firefighters were dispatched about 5:30 a.m. Jan. 18 after a neighbor called and reported smoke coming from the house. But by the time they extinguished what officials described as a “smoldering” fire with heavy smoke, it was too late for Carolyn Benoit.

“They found her in the dining room and it looked like she was trying to get to the back door, but she didn’t make it,” said Assistant Fire Marshall Larry Dishaw.

Dishaw said Benoit was unresponsive when she was located and attempts to revive her were unsuccessful. She lived alone in the two-story, white aluminum sided house and rarely made it out because she was too frail, according to neighbors. Medical examiners had not released the cause of death as of press time.

A preliminary investigation indicates the fire started from an electrical malfunction in a first floor wall cavity. The location of the fire made it especially dangerous, Dishaw said, because the materials burning – insulation and plaster – released high amounts of silt and other lung-clogging particulates.

But Dishaw said the tragedy could have been avoided. During his search of the heavily damaged house, he found only one smoke detector and it didn’t have working batteries.

“I truly believe she would have survived this fire if she would have had working smoke detectors,” Dishaw said. “For $20 or $30 to install smoke detectors throughout the house, she could have saved her life.”