A 77-year-old woman died in a Mount Airy house fire Saturday afternoon, despite frantic efforts by her son to rescue his mother from the burning structure.
The victim was identified as Nora B. Penn, who lived with her son James at 268 Maple Drive in a densely populated residential area located off U.S. 52 north of Bluemont Road, just outside the city limits.
A fire call at that location was dispatched at 12:03 p.m., with emergency radio communications subsequently indicating that someone might be trapped inside the single-story residence. James Penn earlier had been preparing to leave for another location when those plans were halted.
“The son had left the house and he was attempting to go back there to get the car keys and found the house fire,” Surry County Emergency Services Director John Shelton related.
“He actually tried to get his mother out and couldn’t get to her,” Shelton added. “He received some minor injuries.” James Penn declined medical attention afterward for injuries that included cuts.
Mrs. Penn had suffered health problems in the past which somewhat affected her ability to move around, although “she was ambulatory,” Shelton said.
“She would have turned 78 in two days,” James Penn said at the scene Saturday afternoon, as a group of people looked toward the house encircled by yellow tape from a distance.
As of late Saturday, no official cause had been determined for the fire, which started in a living room area at the front of the structure. “The house is absolutely a total loss,” Shelton said.
In addition, the exact cause of death had not been identified for the victim, whether it involved smoke inhalation or other injuries.
Three volunteer fire departments — Franklin, Bannertown and Four-Way — responded to the blaze that required Maple Drive, a narrow street, to be closed, based on emergency communications.
The woman was found inside the house at 12:22 p.m.
Surry County Fire Marshal Doug Jones was at the scene, along with members of the Surry County Sheriff’s Office and the State Bureau of Investigation.
“That is standard,” Shelton said of the SBI involvement, pointing out that nothing had been found to indicate the blaze possibly was suspicious in nature.
Jones said from the scene about 4 p.m. Saturday that no ruling had been made.
“It’s still under investigation,” the fire marshal said.
Shelton said an autopsy might be performed on the victim to pinpoint the cause of death, which he said is difficult to deal with during the holiday season.
“It is a terrible tragedy for a family to go through, particularly at this time of the year,” the emergency services official said, adding that his heartfelt thoughts go out to Nora Penn’s survivors.
“This time of year, it just makes it that much worse.”
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.