Fire investigators keep probing fatal blaze

PORT TOWNSEND — Exploding oxygen tanks has been ruled out as a cause of the Sept. 19 fire that started in a ground-floor room of a Port Townsend senior-citizen apartment complex.

One woman died in the fire.

East Jefferson Fire-Rescue Chief Mike Mingee said many residents of the 40-room Marine Plaza Senior Apartments at 619 Clay St. reported that they heard explosions and saw flames coming from the room of Donna Walden, 70.

Mingee said although Walden breathed with the assistance of oxygen tanks 24 hours a day, no tanks found in her room had exploded.

“The oxygen tanks were intact,” Mingee said.

He said a cigarette-related cause is still being considered because Walden was a smoker and often smoked in her room.

He said the fire’s cause does not appear suspicious.

Smoke inhalation

Preliminary results from an autopsy show that Walden died of smoke inhalation, said Jefferson County Prosecuting Attorney/Coroner Juelie Dalzell.

But tests to determine whether Walden was under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of the fire are still being conducted, Mingee said.

The investigation into the cause is ongoing, said Mingee, with Jefferson County Arson Task Force, led by Mingee, working with Case Forensics, a private fire investigation firm.

Case Forensics was hired by the building’s insurance company.

Investigators continue to examine the remains of the fire that destroyed both Walden’s room and the room above hers that was occupied by Michael Emrys, a 62-year-old disabled man.

Ten residents of Marine Plaza Senior Apartments were unable to return to their rooms because of smoke damage.

Red Cross, OlyCAP help

They are all staying with family members or friends except for Emrys, who was placed at The Tides Inn on Water Street by the Olympic Peninsula Chapter of the American Red Cross.

The Red Cross only funds three days of accommodations for people affected during emergencies, but Olympic Community Action Programs, or OlyCAP, has taken over the responsibility to relocate Emrys while his apartment is being rebuilt.

“We’re helping coordinate assistance, but we certainly need any help we can get,” said Patricia Cuddeback, housing services advocate for OlyCAP in Port Townsend.

Cuddeback said OlyCAP has asked other organizations and individuals for contributions to help Emrys.

“It’s been pretty rocky, and it’s been pretty stressful,” said Emrys while sitting in his room in The Tides Inn on Monday.

“I feel like my world’s been turned upside down. I’ve lost any control that I had.”

He said one difficulty in relocating for an estimated two to three months while his apartment is fixed, is that he needs a disabled-accessible place because he walks with crutches and sometimes uses a motorized wheelchair.

“I’m in the lowest class of income as far as most agencies are concerned,” Emrys said of the reason he needs assistance.

“I hope there’s not going to be a gap between the time rent is due here and when something comes through.”

To make a contribution, contact Bonnie White, co-director for community support services in Jefferson County, at 360-385-2571.

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