The cause of a house fire that claimed the life of a Mount Airy woman last Saturday has been ruled accidental, according to a local official.
Nora B. Penn, 77, of 268 Maple Drive, died after flames broke out in her home around noon and the woman’s son, who was outside, was unable to rescue her, suffering minor injuries in his attempt. The origin of the fatal blaze was not readily known, but determined after an investigation.
“The finding is that the lady accidentally set herself on fire,” said John Shelton, Surry County coroner and emergency services director.
It initially was thought that the fire began in a living room area at the front of the single-story residence located just outside the city limits off U.S. 52-North. But the probe by the Surry County Fire Marshal’s Office and the State Bureau of Investigation revealed that it actually started in the kitchen.
“She accidentally caught her kitchen on fire and moved into the living room and set some other things on fire” with her burning clothing, Shelton added earlier this week.
In tracing the origin to the kitchen, the investigation showed that Mrs. Penn apparently had been preparing to cook on the stove and caught herself on fire from one of its burners.
“It was wide open,” Shelton said.
Meanwhile, James Penn, the woman’s son who lived with her on Maple Drive, had left the house and while heading back inside to get his keys found it was on fire, according to previous reports.
But Penn was unable to reach his mother and suffered minor injuries including cuts during the attempt.
“It was really a sad situation,” Shelton said.
Mrs. Penn subsequently was found inside the house. While she has been described as ambulatory, the woman had suffered some health problems that hampered her movements somewhat.
She is believed to have died not from fire injuries but smoke and fume inhalation, said Shelton, who explained that this was the preliminary finding pending an official autopsy report being received.
The death of Mrs. Penn was the 11th fire fatality in Surry County this year.
Three fire volunteer fire departments responded to the blaze, with the house — which the woman co-owned with her son — declared a total loss.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.