Survivor of house fire was on probation

Manchester woman had defied court orders to clean up property

January 20, 2000|By Mike Farabaugh | Mike Farabaugh,SUN STAFF

A Manchester woman who survived a fatal fire at her trash-strewn home Tuesday evening has been on probation for failing to comply with a court order to remove debris from her property, according to court records.

County health inspectors have cited the homeowner, Beulah Chester, several times since 1997 in response to neighbors' complaints about her 100-year-old house in the 2800 block of Manchester Road, court records show. She was placed on six months' probation in November.

Allen Gosnell, spokesman for the office of the state fire marshal, said debris from floor to ceiling in the house made it more difficult to battle the two-alarm fire.

Firefighters have not determined how the fire started or how the victim, Robert F. Wolfe, 81, who also lived at the house, died.

The fire was discovered about 6 p.m. Tuesday by Chester, 66. She was not injured but was taken to Carroll County General Hospital in Westminster for evaluation, fire marshals said.

Larry Leitch, county health officer, said yesterday he became frustrated because judges found Chester guilty but granted her probation.

Previously, she had been placed on 12 months' probation after being convicted of failing to abate a dangerous condition.

Leitch said the county code limited what he could do and he had obtained authority from state health officials to force compliance.

Ronnie Hossler, a next-door neighbor, was the principal complainant, court records show.

"The judges didn't do what they should have done," Hossler said yesterday. Fines imposed on Chester were suspended.

Prosecutor Brian DeLeonardo, an assistant state's attorney, said that because Chester did just enough to improve the condition of her property, probation seemed the logical resolution.

Hossler recalled seeing trash and debris being removed from a large metal trash container placed in Chester's yard for the cleanup.

"They'd just carry it into the house," Hossler said. "You know if that stuff was piled from floor to ceiling throughout the house, if there was a fire, it would have been really hard to get out of there in thick smoke and flames."

The first firefighters on the scene quickly found Wolfe inside the house, but it was too late, Gosnell said.

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