Neighbor tries to save woman in fatal Sumter house fire

By Taylor Kearns - bio | email

SUMTER, SC (WIS) - An elderly woman is dead after an overnight house fire near Shaw Air Force Base in Sumter County, according to the coroner.

It happened around 12:30am Monday at the Crescent Mobile Home Park off Highway 378.

85-year-old Leona Hardin was trying to stay warm on a cold night, but the Sumter fire chief says the space heater she was using to heat her mobile home was too close to her bed.

The fire chief says shortly after midnight her room erupted in flames. "I wanted so bad to go in there," said neighbor Allen Frey, "I didn't know the lady but a human is a human, a life is a life."

When Frey ran to help, he found Hardin's son, Jimmy, on the front porch. He had second degree burns on both arms. "I said is there anyone else in there, and he said 'My mom's in the back bedroom.'," says Frey.

Family members say Jimmy lived at the home and took care of his mother, who had emphysema. The fire department says Hardin's oxygen tanks turned into bombs and made the fire harder to fight. "I was gonna go in, but then a little explosion hit in the living room and came out the front door," says Frey, "Me and him were standing right on the steps when the fire came out."

The flames were so intense they melted the underpinning of the mobile home next door. Hardin didn't make it out, and the fire chief says Jimmy is at the Augusta burn center.

There are some important guidelines to remember when using space heaters, such making sure you turn them off completely before going to sleep and keeping a three-foot halo around them so they can't ignite something nearby. Click on the link for more space heater safety tips.

Copyright 2010 WIS. All rights reserved.