Elderly woman hospitalized after Bennington house fire


BENNINGTON — An elderly woman who was rescued from an early-morning house fire on Saturday has been taken to a hospital in Westchester County, N.Y.

State investigators believe the structure fire that caused significant damage to 366 North Branch St. was electrical in nature and is not suspicious.

Phyllis L. Rowe, 80, was taken by ambulance to Southwestern Vermont Medical Center. She was then airlifted to the trauma and burn unit at Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla, N.Y. for severe smoke inhalation, according to state investigators.

The hospital stated that Rowe was in critical condition as of Sunday.

Rowe's husband Thomas Lebarron, 68, refused medical attention for cuts and burns. Volunteers with the American Red Cross of Vermont & New Hampshire were at the scene on Saturday to assist Lebarron.

The Bennington Rural Fire Department responded to a 911 call for a fire just before 3:30 a.m., according to Assistant Fire Chief Roger Hughs. The porch and dining room were on fire when firefighters arrived.

Hughs said more manpower was needed and mutual aid was requested from the Bennington Fire Department. The Bennington Police Department and the Bennington Rescue Squad also responded.

Firefighters rescued pets from inside the home and took them to an animal hospital, according to Hughs.

Firefighters remained at the scene for much of Saturday morning. They returned mid-day after the fire rekindled and knocked it down again.

The fire investigation was led by Detective Sergeant Todd Ambroz of the Vermont State Police and Assistant Fire Marshal Joshua Maxham of the Department of Fire Safety.

According to a press release from Ambroz, Lebarron told authorities that his wife woke him up at 3:20 a.m. after she smelled smoke. They both attempted to get out of the house after smoke began quickly filling the home's first floor.

Lebarron told authorities he could not see and it was difficult to breath, so he punched out a first floor window and crawled out onto the driveway. He ran for help and yelled for his neighbours to call 911.

First responders found Rowe unconscious on the floor of a room adjacent to the dining room, according to Ambroz.

An investigation determined the fire began in the dining room and is believed to have come from a power strip that was plugged into a wall outlet, according to Ambroz. The power strip had numerous electrical items plugged into it, including a toaster, a hot plate, a coffee pot, and an extension cord that provided power to items inside a detached garage. The home had knob-and-tube wiring with cloth covered wires.

"Although the exact cause of the fire is undetermined due to the several electrical appliances located in the area of origin, it does appear this is an electrical related issue and not a suspicious or intentionally set fire," Ambroz said in a press release.

Contact Ed Damon at 802-447-7567, ext. 111.


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