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Fires Kill 17 in Ohio, Tennessee and Indiana

December 27, 1985

Undated (AP) _ Fires in Ohio, Tennessee and Indiana killed 17 people, including seven in a Toledo suburb and a Texas family of four visiting relatives for Christmas, officials said today.

Other fires believed started in Christmas trees raced through a three-story Boston apartment building, injuring 11 people, and through the lobby of a Honolulu hotel, injuring seven, authorities said.

A home in the Toledo, Ohio, suburb of Perrysburg Township burned to the ground at 3 a.m. today, killing seven, said Wood County Coroner Roger Peatee.

The dead are believed to belong to the family of Awilda Maddox, who owned the home but identifications were still being made, Peatee said. No one escaped the house.

The fire’s cause was not known. Firefighters who found the house engulfed in flames said it was fanned by winds gusting to 46 mph.

Indianapolis firefighters called to a two-story brick house at 5:10 a.m. found smoke and flames pouring from a window, officials said.

Killed were Staff Sgt. Joseph Douglas, 31, of Fort Bliss, Texas; his wife, Barbara, 30; and their sons, Joseph Jr., 3, and Cameron, 2. They had been sleeping upstairs.

The family was staying with Mrs. Douglas’ parents, Wallace D. Fortner, 68, and his wife, Cleo, 63. The Fortners escaped by climbing out a first-floor window.

The fire apparently started in a kitchen corner, possibly in a waste basket, District Fire Chief Douglas Walker said.

A fire that destroyed a two-story home in Knox County, Tennessee, at 3 a.m. killed William McMillan, 3, and his 2-year-old brother, Andrew, said Bob Maples, spokesman for the Rural Metro Fire Department.

The boys had been sleeping in an upstairs bedroom that was consumed by fire when firefighters arrived.

The boys’ father, Henry McMillan, tried to save them but was forced out of the house by heat and smoke, Maples said. McMillan, his wife, Debbie, and an older daughter escaped the fire.

Another east Tennessee blaze swept through a house in Del Rio early Thursday, authorities said. Killed were Agnes Pierce, 40, and her children, Bobbie Jean, 8; Cindie, 4; David, 3; and Mary, 1, said Cocke County Deputy Jeff Manes. Bobby Pierce, 41, was cut on the hand and burned while trying to rescue his wife and children, authorities said.

A fire that gutted a Memphis home killed 2-year-old twin girls, said Fire Marshal H.D. Crossnine. The blaze may have been started by a blanket dropped over a floor furnace, Crossnine said. Caitlin Ann and Rachaele Elaine Whitley were trapped in their back bedroom and probably died of smoke inhalation, Crossnine said. A babysitter escaped.

The Boston fire trapped people on the second and third floors of the woodframe building before the five families living there were evacuated into 19-degree weather Thursday evening.

Police Officer Gerald McHale and Officer Stephen McGrath were on a routine anti-crime patrol when the fire erupted.

″We called for help and all of a sudden there were civilians all around us helping,″ said McHale said. Three children were tossed out of windows by adults.

″We caught three babies and a mother,″ McHale said. He said the mother’s fall was broken by about five people, including the officers.

Six adults, two police officers, and three children were injured, McHale said.

Nine of the injured were taken to Massachusetts General Hospital suffering from burns and smoke inhalation, said Carol A. Labadini, night supervisor.

One child in serious condition was transferred to the Shriners Burn institute and two adults were admitted at Massachusetts General, she said.

The fire was believed started by a Christmas tree, according to a fire department dispatcher who refused to give her name.

In Honolulu, the seven people were injured when a Christmas tree exploded into flames in a Waikiki hotel lobby Thursday night, authorities said.

The fire spread quickly through the Outrigger Surf Hotel’s lobby, exploding windows, said Rich Finnigan, a waiter at Rudy’s Italian Restaurant in the building.

One of three men taken to Queen’s Medical Center was listed in critical condition, said a nursing supervisor who delined to give her name. Another man was listed in guarded condition, while the third was treated and released, she said. The names of the three and their injuries were not disclosed.

Four people, including a Canadian couple, were admitted in fair condition to Straub Clinic, said spokeswoman Paula Rath.

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