A 97-year-old Govans man was killed early yesterday after his sweater caught on fire while he was trying to light one of the cigars that had been his trademark for decades.
Fire officials said John Williams, who had lived at least half his life in a modest brick cottage style home in the 5000 block of Midwood Ave., was pronounced dead at the scene.
"He always had that cigar in his mouth," said Elizabeth C. Tiller, who had lived next door to Mr. Williams for the past 35 years. "Whether it was burning or not, he always carried one in his mouth."
Capt. Dennis E. Howell, of the fire investigation bureau, said the fatal fire occurred at about 3 a.m. as Mr. Williams was lighting a cigar as he sat in a chair in the front room of his house.
When the sweater began to burn, Mr. Williams yelled to alert his daughter, 64-year-old Pattie Jackson, who was asleep in a rear first-floor room, Captain Howell said.
The captain said that when Ms. Jackson saw her father, she threw a blanket on him in an attempt to smother the flames. But the blanket also burned, the fire intensified and the fire department was called, Captain Howell said.
Some 25 city firefighters quickly extinguished the blaze, which damaged the carpet, walls and ceiling in the first floor hallway and front room, causing an estimated $2,000 worth of damage.
An autopsy will be conducted, fire officials said.
Neither Ms. Jackson nor Mr. Williams' 93-year-old wife, Daisy Williams, was injured, fire officials said. Neighbors said the two // left after the fire yesterday to stay with relatives.
"It's a real tragedy," said Wilma Adams, who moved across the street from the couple about 35 years ago. "I wish I could live to be his age and get around the way he did."
Mrs. Adams said Mr. Williams and his wife were "real friendly elderly people. His wife used to bring flowers to me and some of the other people around here."
Mr. Williams worked for the Social Security Administration, she said, but retired "a long, long time ago."
Mrs. Tiller said Mr. Williams "got around real good until recently. He still did pretty good for his age. But, he was getting all bent over and needed a cane most of the time. He still tried to do things outside, but that was about it."
In years past, there was "nothing you couldn't ask him to do for you," she said.