Fatal house fire is called arson No suspect in blaze that killed widow, 64

January 10, 1991|By Alisa Samuels | Alisa Samuels,Evening Sun Staff

Fire officials say arson was responsible for a one-alarm blaze in the Mount Washington home of a 64-year-old disabled woman whose charred body was found by firefighters in a first-floor family room. Police have no motive or suspect in the fire, which caused property damages estimated at $130,000.

Jean Ashburn, a widow, lived alone in the wood and brick ranch-style home in the 5700 block of Rockspring Road. Her body was found about 9 p.m. Tuesday in a fetal position on a sofa on the first floor of the family room, said Capt. Patrick Flynn, Fire Department spokesman.

Ashburn used a walker and a stair-elevator to get about in her home. She was found on the sofa by firefighters.

"The fire was set" near a closet in the family room, Flynn said. "There was some type of flammable liquid used." The type of liquid wasn't immediately known.

The fire was reported by a Northern District police officer patrolling the area.

"It was full-blown when I saw it," said one neighbor. "The top of the house [made of wood] was aflame like a bonfire."

Flynn said the fire was declared under control at 9:42 p.m. Property damage was estimated at $100,000 to the dwelling and $30,000 to contents, Flynn said. Firefighters found the front basement-level door of the home open. One of two nurses who cared for Ashburn said that door was always locked, police said.

Ashburn was cared for 24 hours by two professional nurses, one of whom had left Ashburn's home at 4:30 p.m. after her relief arrived to work the 4:30 p.m.-to-8 a.m. shift.

The night relief apparently wasn't present when the fire broke out, however, and she was interviewed Wednesday, police said. No charges have been filed.

Police said there was no sign of forced entry. The fire made it difficult to determine at the scene if Ashburn's home had been burglarized.

Neighbors said Ashburn, a quiet woman, never left her home without one of her nurses and her silver walker.

She was a retired government worker, neighbors said.

Dorothy Bascom, the wife of the Rev. Marion Bascom of Douglas Memorial Community Church on Lafayette and Madison avenues, said Ashburn was a member of Douglas Memorial for more than 20 years. She was also a trustee and a member of the church's hand-crafters group, which made handmade gifts for fund-raisers.

"She loved arts and crafts," Dorothy Bascom said.

The Rev. Bascom was meeting with Ashburn's brother last night, the minister's wife said. She said Ashburn had no children.

"She was a good friend of ours," Dorothy Bascom said. "She was a friendly person."

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