A 52-year-old woman died after a fire that destroyed her townhouse in Oakland Mills early yesterday morning -- the first accidental fire death in Howard County since January 1998, authorities said.
The scene shocked students on their way to Oakland Mills High School, and 24 of them later received counseling.
Officials said they believe the woman was asleep when the two-alarm fire began. They said she lived alone in the two-story home in the 9400 block of Kilimanjaro Road. It is not known what caused the fire, although it is believed to have begun on the first floor.
Officials would not release the name of the woman because they were unable to reach her family in Illinois and Israel, said state fire marshal spokesman Allen Gosnell.
Attorney Charles J. Broida, who has represented the woman, said she was an accomplished psychotherapist who worked most recently at a Baltimore hospital.
About 50 firefighters eventually responded to the blaze, which was reported at 6: 42 a.m. by neighbors who telephoned with reports of glass exploding and flames shooting from the roof.
About 15 minutes later, firefighters discovered the woman -- who they said had severe burns and was in cardiac arrest -- in an upstairs bedroom and brought her outside to try to revive her.
"They were working on her in the front," said Jay Jenkins, 32, who lives across the street and watched the attempts to save her.
The fire and the appearance of the woman shocked a number of students who had to pass by on their way to Oakland Mills High School. They usually ride a bus to school, but fire trucks blocked the way, forcing the teen-agers to get off at an earlier stop, said Patti Caplan, the county's school spokeswoman.
"What we tried to do is dispatch teachers and administrators and move students away from the scene," said Jennifer Smith, a school psychologist who spoke with the children. "Some students didn't exhibit a response. Some had anx iety and fear."
All of the students who received counseling stayed in school yesterday.
Fire and rescue officials were able to revive the woman and sent her to Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore, where she went into cardiac arrest a second time, said Lt. Brian Tiffany of the Howard County Department of Fire and Rescue Services. The woman died about 10 a.m., Tiffany said. The state medical examiner's office is conducting an autopsy to determine the official cause of death.
Firefighters needed about two hours to put out the blaze, which destroyed the home. Two firefighters suffered minor injuries. Officials estimate the damage at $130,000.
Tiffany said firefighters were able to find one smoke detector, but have not determined whether it was working.
The two townhouses on either side of the woman's house sustained minimal roof damage, although one family was forced to evacuate, officials said. The house, built in 1973, had concrete walls separating it from the adjoining homes, preventing further damage, said Lt. Ronald B. Redmond of the county fire department.
The last accidental fire death in Howard County was of an 88-year-old Elkridge woman who died in her home.
Sun staff writer Del Quentin Wilber contributed to this article.