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Fire In Home For Elderly Kills Six, Injures Six

December 26, 1986

LAWRENCEBURG, Tenn. (AP) _ A fire that gutted a home for the elderly, killing six people in Tennessee’s worst blaze of the year, apparently began in the room of a man with a history of playing with lighters, an arson investigator said.

However, Jim Crawly, state senior arson investigator, said the cause of the fire Wednesday had not been pinpointed.

Five people died in three house fires on Christmas Eve and Christmas in New Jersey, New York and Massachusetts, authorities said. A 27-year-old man was charged with arson and murder in a blaze that killed two in Boston.

In Lawrenceburg, the dead were five residents and the 16-year-old son of the proprietors of the J&D Residential Home for the Aged. Six people were injured, including a firefighter who sustained second- and third-degree burns while trying to rescue trapped residents.

The fire apparently started in the room of 71-year-old Robert Davis, who died, said Crawley.

Davis, a mentally retarded deaf mute, ″had a history of playing with lighters,″ though no lighter was found, Crawley said. A lighter likely would have been destroyed had one been in the room, he said.

Fire Chief Roy Holloway said a passer-by reported the blaze at 4:23 a.m. The residents who survived managed to escape from the one-story structure by the time firefighters arrived, he said.

Owner James Parker helped one of the residents to safety and tried to get back into the building to rescue others, but the door locked behind him, Sheriff Tom Pyrdum said. He pounded on the door to alert others.

Lawrenceburg firefighter Jay Moore ″was so concerned about trying to get people out that he went in ahead of the hose,″ said Fire Capt. Wayne Holden.

Moore, 22, was listed in fair condition at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

The fire at the 11-resident, family-owned home was the worst in Tennessee in 1986, said Kristine Bender, a spokeswoman for the state Fire Marshall’s office.

In other holiday fires:

-A Christmas Eve blaze in Boston killed a man and a woman, and the man’s son, Lewis S. Martien III, was charged with arson and murder. Fire Capt. Matthew Corbett said the blaze was believed caused when a kerosene space heater was thrown at a door. Neighbors said a loud argument preceded the fire. Killed were Lewis S. Martien Jr., 50, and Bernadine Woodhouse, 32.

-A fire that broke out in the basement of a Plainfield, N.J., home killed an 83-year-old woman visiting her family from Wilson, N.C., early Thursday. Two firefighters suffered minor injuries in an attempt to rescue the woman, Bessy Hester.

-Dolores Doherty, 37, and her 10-year-old son, Joseph Hutchby, were fatally injured Christmas morning in a fire that engulfed their two-story brick house in New York, police said. The woman’s husband and two other children were injured.

An unemployed man, described as despondent over the breakup of a love affair, and his two sons, ages 4 and 1 1/2 , were found dead after a fire Thursday at their home in El Paso, Texas. Fire Marshal Hubert Jackson said an explosion occurred in the front of the house about 3 p.m. Evidence of a flammable liquid was found, authorities said, but the cause of the deaths and fire remained undetermined pending autopsies and further investigation.

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