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Published: Monday, 2/23/2009

Cigarette may be to blame in South Toledo house fire

BY LAREN WEBER
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Danielle Fuller recalls her neighbor, Betty Leonhardt, who died Saturday night after a fire at her Rocksberry Avenue home, in the background. Ms. Leonhardt was alone at the time. Danielle Fuller recalls her neighbor, Betty Leonhardt, who died Saturday night after a fire at her Rocksberry Avenue home, in the background. Ms. Leonhardt was alone at the time.
TOLEDO BLADE/JETTA FRASER Enlarge

An unattended cigarette has been blamed for a fatal house fire in South Toledo on Saturday that killed a 56-year-old woman the second person to die in a house fire in two days, authorities said.

Betty Leonhardt died shortly after arriving at the University of Toledo Medical Center, formerly the Medical College of Ohio Hospital.

Firefighters were called to Ms. Leonhardt s house at 2963 Rocksberry Ave., near Stengel Avenue, about 10:15 p.m. Saturday and found heavy smoke coming from the one-story brick house. The home is in a neighborhood west of South Detroit Avenue and Byrne Road.

Battalion Chief Bill Hickey said the fire appears to have started in a bedroom. Ms. Leonhardt, who was home alone at the time, was found on a couch in the living room.

Firefighters found Betty Leonhardt, above, in the living room of the home she had shared until recently with her mother. Firefighters found Betty Leonhardt, above, in the living room of the home she had shared until recently with her mother.
TOLEDO BLADE/JETTA FRASER Enlarge

Damage was estimated at $90,000.

Several windows of the house were boarded over Sunday, and a blue tarp covered a hole in the roof. Danielle Fuller, 20, who lives next door, said neighbors gathered Saturday night as firefighters worked to put out the blaze.

Ms. Fuller said she cried as firefighters carried Ms. Leonhardt from the home and performed CPR.

It was so sad, she said. It s still so surreal.

Ms. Fuller said she didn t smell smoke or see flames. A neighbor on a street behind their house apparently called 911 after seeing smoke coming from the attic, she said.

Lisa Perry and her husband, Keith, live two houses away. She said she saw smoke coming from the roof.

But once firefighters opened the door to get inside, smoke and flames began billowing out of the roof and windows.

It was like an inferno, Mrs. Perry said.

Initially, there was concern that Ms. Leonhardt s mother, Sophie, was inside the house. It was later determined that she had been moved to a rehabilitation center after suffering a stroke five weeks ago.

Mrs. Perry said the residents of Rocksberry Avenue are like a family.

She said her husband often helped Ms. Leonhardt with things around the house, as did others in the neighborhood.

She said Ms. Leonhardt enjoyed painting and had recently begun taking drawing classes. She also liked reading.

On Friday, firefighters found the body of a bedridden 52-year-old inside her house at 331 Austin St. in the city s north end about 2:30 a.m.

Authorities have not determined what caused the fire that killed Charline Spearman.

The mechanical bed that Ms. Spearman used will be examined early this week by an engineer to determine whether a faulty motor caused the fire. Ms. Spearman had been bedridden for three years.

Assistant Chief Luis Santiago said a lighted cigarette also could be blamed.

The fire started on the bed, which was in the dining room on the first floor, he said.

Contact Laren Weber at:lweber@theblade.comor 419-724-6050.



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