York, PA - The backyard of Tia Smith's East Cottage Place home in York is scattered with reminders of the grandchildren that lived with her: a small red bicycle, pieces of a car seat, a water-logged stuffed animal.
The house was full of family, said American Red Cross spokeswoman Victoria Connor. There were four adults living there and five children ranging in age from 6 months to 11 years old.
But Smith won't be returning to her shady brick home or her grandchildren. The 45-year-old York resident was killed by a fire that swept through her four-unit building Sunday morning, displacing 19 residents.
An investigation of the fire revealed that the blaze was caused by the careless handling of smoking materials on the first floor where Smith stayed, said Steven Buffington, chief of the city's Fire/Rescue Services Department.
And two preventable factors contributed to her death, he said: a lack of adequate smoke detectors and Smith's attempts to fight the fire.
Evidence indicates that Smith tried to use a fire extinguisher to fight the blaze. Buffington said he would never discourage someone from keeping an extinguisher in his or her home, but using it is a judgment call, he said.
Even for someone properly trained, it can provide a false sense of security, he said.
"One of the first things we instruct people is 'make sure you are between the exit and the fire,'" Buffington said.
Investigators also found that there were an inadequate number of smoke detectors in Smith's home. More detectors might not have saved Smith's life -- she chose to stay in the building to fight the fire, Buffington noted -- but they would have alerted her family sooner, Buffington said.
Smith's son, Kevin Wilkerson, said Monday that he awoke to the sound of a smoke alarm and tried to go downstairs for his mother. It was just too hot to make it, he said.
"We tried, but we couldn't handle it because of the smoke," he said. "As much as we pushed forward, it pushed us back.
Wilkerson said he jumped from a second-story window and caught several of the small children.
One smoke detector that was believed to be operational was found on the third floor, but no alarm could be found on the second floor, Buffington said. Family told investigators that the first-floor alarm had the battery removed for cooking.
There should be one smoke detector in every sleeping room, one immediately adjacent to sleeping areas and at least one on each floor, Buffington said. They should never be deactivated, he said.
"We do see a lot with the battery out of it, because it does become a nuisance," Buffington said. "We recommend the detector be located as remotely from the kitchen as it can get."
If there is any confusion, the city offers free smoke detectors and installation for any York resident, Buffington said. Firefighters will also inspect existing detectors.
"If we have any doubts about it, we'll replace it for free," he said.
Two families living at 184 and 186 East Cottage Place have returned to their fire-damaged homes following a fatal fire Sunday that displaced 19 residents, according to American Red Cross spokeswoman Victoria Connor. The families received money for food, smoke odor removal products and comfort kits full of toiletries, she said.
A family from 188 E. Cottage Place is staying with friends and family, Connor said. They have received mental health counseling in addition to supplies, she said.
"The family knew the woman who passed away very well, so we're providing them with additional support as needed," Connor said. "They were deeply saddened, but again thankful that their family survived the blaze."
Members of the Red Cross will likely meet with Smith's family Tuesday "to determine what their next steps should be in terms of getting them on the road to recovery."
In addition to Sunday's fire at 184-190 E. Cottage Place, York, the American Red Cross responded to four additional fires in the York-Adams area over the weekend:
--- Saturday, in Carroll Valley, Adams County, a single-family home; 1 person displaced.
--- Saturday, in Franklin Township, Adams County, a business with apartment above; 1 person displaced.
--- Saturday, in New Oxford, Adams County, a single-family home; 3 adults and 1 infant displaced.
--- Sunday, in Paradise Township, York County, a single-family home; 2 adults and a dog displaced.