GALVESTON — A house fire started by a hot plate on the coldest night of the season claimed the life of a duplex resident, but his wife escaped the blaze with minor injuries, fire officials and neighbors said.
Brady Matthews, 77, was found dead at 9:45 p.m. Monday in his bedroom on the first level of the two-story home in the 2400 block of Avenue P½, officials said.
John Florence, a spokesman for the Galveston County Medical Examiner’s Office, said the office would await test results to determine whether Matthews died of smoke inhalation or from flames.
Upstairs neighbors said they escaped with Matthews’ wife, Josephine Matthews, 77. She remained hospitalized Tuesday afternoon in good condition at the University of Texas Medical Branch for treatment of smoke inhalation, said Elizabeth Rogers, a spokeswoman for the city.
“I initially smelled something burning, and I left out of my room to get my son,” upstairs resident Loraine Whitaker said. “That’s when he told me to leave.”
Whitaker’s son saw the smoke coming into their residence.
“He ran down the steps,” Whitaker said, “got the lady from downstairs out. He was trying to get her out of her house, and he got her out.”
Firefighters received the call at 9:20 p.m., and the first crew responded within three minutes. Firefighters arrived to find heavy smoke and flames spreading to the second floor, Rogers said.
“They pulled out to regroup and called in a second alarm,” Rogers said. “The second alarm crew showed up. They entered the house. They were able to access the room where the fire originated, and they confirmed one fatality.”
Officials believed as many as eight people were displaced from the home on a night when the temperature dipped into the middle to lower 40s.
The cause of the fire was ruled accidental, as a hot plate was too close to combustible material, Rogers said. There were no smoke detectors inside the house, she said. The city provides smoke detectors free of charge to senior citizens who request them from the fire department, she said.
When firefighters arrived, they found flames coming from the rear of the house on both floors, Galveston Assistant Fire Chief Mike Wisko said. Heavy flames caused the firefighters to retreat until they could bring a second water line inside, Wisko said.
They went back in, knocked the fire down and conducted a search, which is when they found Matthews’ body, Wisko said.
When fire officials called for a second alarm, they also requested assistance from the Texas City Fire Department to bring one engine crew to help cover the island, Wisko said.
Whitaker intended to stay with relatives, including her oldest sister, Patricia Maxiey of Texas City.
“Everything is going to be all right,” Whitaker’s relative Larry Menifee said. “I don’t care how many trials and tribulations you go through. If you believe in God, you can overcome any obstacles.”