HENRICO COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — A community is mourning after the loss of a neighbor and her daughter after a house fire in the 7900 block of Tamarind Drive in Henrico County.
Evetis D. Duren, 85, and her daughter, Belinda D. Webster, 63, were pronounced dead after being rescued from the fire Tuesday night and taken to VCU Medical Center with life-threatening injuries.
“It is a tragedy for not only the community, but for Henrico County — the fire department, the citizens,” Henrico County Fire Department Fire Marshal and Assistant Chief Henry Rosenbaum said. “Our hearts and prayers and thoughts are with the family, the neighbors, and I understand that there’s a large church association for the family and we just feel for them.”
Next-door neighbor Larry Tucker told 8News that he has only lived in the Three Fountains community for four years. Meanwhile, he said that Duren was there for more than three decades. Yet, they formed a friendship because of the kind of neighbor that she was.
“I always volunteered to cut her yard, keep her grass and everything cut for her,” Tucker said. “She was a fun-loving person, spiritual, family-oriented, was always in church. She just was a fun person to talk to.”
Living just steps away from Duren, Tucker was one of the first people to see what was happening Tuesday night.
According to a release, at 11:27 p.m. on Nov. 2, the Henrico Emergency Communication Center was alerted to a fire alarm in a single-family residence. Fire units responded and were on scene six minutes later.
“Fire units arrived to find heavy fire coming from the right side of the house and smoke coming through most of the windows around the house,” Rosenbaum said. “They went into an immediate rescue mode, and within minutes, we were able to find the two adult females in the house. They were both unconscious.”
When Tucker stepped outside amid all the commotion, he said that all he could see was smoke. Even Wednesday afternoon, the smell of smoke lingered in the air.
“It was real thick, thick smoke,” Tucker said. “It was really hard to watch.”
Tucker told 8News that seeing everything unfold Tuesday night and into the early hours of Wednesday morning was particularly heartbreaking not only because of his friendship with Duren, but also because he had lost his parents in a similar manner several years ago.
“About eight years ago, I lost my parents, Sam and Dolores Tucker, in Petersburg, to a house fire. Smoke inhalation,” Tucker said. “Lot of smoke like it was last night, so it was like déjà vu all over again.”
Despite the heavy smoke pouring from the home on Tamarind Drive Tuesday night, Rosenbaum said that none of the first responders were injured.
Staying on scene past daybreak on Wednesday, authorities are now working to determine the cause of the fire and where exactly it started.
“We’re still at a point where we’re gathering that information,” he said. “It’ll be several weeks before we’ll be in a position to make any statements on exactly where the fire started or how it started.”
Rosenbaum said that although the house suffered substantial fire damage and is currently not habitable, it is not a total loss. Once repairs are made, it could be lived in again.
Neighbors told 8News that Duren is survived by her two other children.
“She was one of the pillars of the neighborhood,” Tucker said. “She was 85 years old, but you wouldn’t think she was 85. She was always on the go.”
Rosenbaum said that Duren’s home did have a working smoke alarm, which is actually how emergency responders were first alerted that there was something wrong. The alarm had a feature that would automatically notify a monitoring company when it went off. But it was still too late.
“What we find in today’s fires versus fires that occurred 30 and 40 years ago is we have a lot more synthetics in our house, and those synthetics burn quicker and they burn hotter,” Rosenbaum said. “The time for people to react and get out from the notification of the first smoke alarm going off is getting shorter and shorter.”
Rosenbaum stressed the importance of having a working smoke alarm and an exit plan. For those who cannot immediately escape a fire, he said that putting as many closed doors between the person and the fire as possible can be effective until emergency responders arrive to help.