PROVO — Linda Matson was homebound and rarely left her bed. But investigators believe she was trying to get out of her home when a fire broke out early Sunday.
"I believe that she became aware of the fire and she was trying to escape," Provo Fire Marshal Lynn Schofield said.
Though the fire began in one of two bedrooms at the home Matson, 65, shared with her adult son, firefighters found the woman's body in the kitchen. It is believed she died of smoke inhalation, Schofield said.
"She would not have been able to escape," neighbor Bethany Patrick said. "She could barely walk."
Matson's son checked on her around 7:30 p.m. when he was leaving for work, according to Schofield. The woman was in the bedroom where the blaze would later break out.
Schofield said it appeared the fire smoldered for some time before it was reported at 1:45 a.m. Sunday. Neighbors reported smelling smoke around midnight.
"We noticed the smell of smoke and it was persistent, so I came out," Patrick said. "There was smoke coming out of the chimney which was a little unusual, but not unusual enough to call on it."
Les Hopkins said it is not uncommon for people in the neighborhood to use wood-burning stoves, so he also thought little of the smell initially.
"But around 2 a.m. I heard the sirens of the fire truck as it came around the corner," he said.
Patrick heard the same sirens.
"I got that sinking feeling that we should have called," she said. "By that time, there was smoke pouring out the side window and coming out the front door. We never saw flames or anything but there was a lot of smoke."
Schofield said there were "very heavy smoke conditions" and a large fire in one of the bedrooms of the home at 333 E. 100 South. Firefighters contained the blaze to that one room, but the damage to the home is estimated to be $85,000.
Schofield said the fire appeared to have started in an overloaded electrical outlet of the bedroom Matson was last seen in.
"We've become pretty dependent on power strips," he said. "Every time you plug one in, you draw more current through. Particularly in these older homes, they're not designed to draw that much current."
The home did not have smoke alarms, which are the best early warning device.
"A lot of people are under the mistaken idea that the fire will wake you up — you'll hear the fire, you'll smell the smoke," Schofield said. "But the reality is, the toxic fumes from the fire will put you deeper to sleep."
Matson was found sitting on the kitchen floor.
Patrick later watched as firefighters carried Matson's body from the home and tried CPR.
"It was really sad," she said.
Neighbors said Matson had been sick for years and never left her house. Hopkins, who had been the woman's bishop, said he believed her illness was tied to emphysema.
"Very nice people," he said. "We would go and visit her and her son and she was very welcoming and a warm person."
Patrick said Matson was a quiet and kind person. She said this incident serves as a reminder of what's most important.
"Check your smoke detectors and hug your kids," she said.
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