Bishop Peak Neighborhood

Elderly woman who died in SLO fire is identified

The fire was caused by an unattended stove, investigators say; the home did not have smoke detectors

tweber@thetribunenews.comJanuary 18, 2012 

UPDATE 1:50 p.m. The woman who died in a house fire on Wednesday has been identified as 79-year-old Barbara Beck, according to the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's Office.

UPDATE 9:55 a.m. The San Luis Obispo Fire Department has determined that the house fire that led to an elderly woman’s death was caused by an unattended stove in the kitchen.

Battalion Chief Dave Podhorsky said the home did not have smoke detectors, and that “undoubtedly contributed to the late recognition of the fire.”

Firefighters found the woman unconscious in a rear bedroom of the home at 587 Al-Hil Drive. Despite their efforts with CPR, the woman was pronounced dead at Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center.

The county coroner has yet to identify the woman. Neighbors and firefighters described her as elderly, but no specific age has yet been given by authorities.

Original story: An elderly woman died when a fire broke out in her San Luis Obispo home Wednesday night.

Firefighters were called at 7 p.m. to the home at 587 Al-Hil Drive, which is in a neighborhood near Bishop’s Peak Elementary School. As they arrived, they encountered a home already well ablaze, said Battalion Chief Dave Podhorsky of the San Luis Obispo Fire Department.

Trees, bushes and the edge of the roof were on fire outside the residence, while flames could be seen burning in various rooms, he said, estimating half the home was ablaze when he got to the scene.

“It was well involved,” Podhorsky said.

Smoke was billowing out of the structure, and the woman was found unconscious on the floor of a rear bedroom, he said. Firefighters performed CPR before she was transported to Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center.

It was there that she was declared dead, hospital spokesman Ron Yukelson said. The authorities did not release her name pending notification of relatives.

No one else was at the home when the blaze broke out, Podhorsky said.

Nearly 30 firefighters from the city and County/Cal Fire responded to the call.

Podhorsky said there was no obvious cause of the fire, as it could have started outside the home or in it. Fire Marshal Roger Maggio arrived on the scene after the fire was extinguished to start his work of investigating how the blaze began.

Podhorsky said damage was extensive, both from flames and smoke, and that the home will require a complete gutting before it can be rebuilt.

He said the home was full of combustible materials, such as publications and other items made of paper.

“It was like the pack-rat syndrome,” he said, describing the amount of material found in the rooms.

‘Call 911!’

Among the first people to see the flames were Bill Morgan and his 13-year-old daughter, Gabi. Their house, at 586 Al-Hil Drive, is across the street from the woman’s house.

“I was on my computer doing homework,” said Gabi, a Laguna Middle School student. “The dogs started barking, and my dad went outside to see what the commotion was.

“He ran back inside and said, ‘Call 911!’ ”

Gabi said the fire appeared to be coming from every part of the home.

“It was like a firework. I heard loud pops, and ashes were raining down.”

Gabi paused, clearly concerned about her neighbor. She said the woman was “always happy, and she loved our dogs.”

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