Coroner: Fire victim likely died from natural causes, not house fire

Published: Sep. 4, 2014 at 10:41 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 14, 2014 at 1:53 AM EDT
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Fire crews at fatal house fire. (Source: Michal Higdon)
Fire crews at fatal house fire. (Source: Michal Higdon)

RICHLAND COUNTY, SC (WIS) - Investigators now know how this home went up in flames last night in northeast Columbia, but the coroner tells us the fire was not what killed the woman inside.

Around 8 p.m., firefighters found 63-year-old Carolyn Baker dead in her bedroom at the back of her home.

"I saw her come out in a black bag," said neighbor Keith General.

Richland County Coroner Gary Garry Watts said Baker died of natural causes.

"I don't know whether she had smoke detectors or not, but what we can tell from the autopsy, it wouldn't have mattered because she was dead before the fire ever started," Watts said.

Watts said Baker likely died due to a chronic respiratory condition.

"She died and most probably dropped a cigarette on her bedding, and that's what initiated the fire," Watts said.

Baker's neighbors heard a similar story last night, minutes after the 911 call was placed by a caretaker who lived nearby.

"She said she was in there with her," General said. "She wanted a cigarette, she gave her a cigarette. She went to her house to do something and she saw the smoke coming out of this lady's room."

Smoking is the leading cause of home fire deaths in the nation every year. The coroner says she should not have been smoking in that condition

"She was a smoker, I tried to get her to stop smoking but she said it was the one thing she had to have," said neighbor Jerome Smith.

More tests are underway to confirm Baker died from natural causes.

Damages are estimated at around $10,000.

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