An elderly Finley woman who neighbors say was a loner and very independent died alone in an early-morning fire at her home Thursday.
Smoke was reported coming from Laura L. Adams' mobile home at 14208 S. Haney Road around 6:40 a.m., and by the time fire crews arrived and quickly attempted a rescue, Adams already was dead, said Benton Fire District 1 Capt. Jeff Ripley.
"We received initial information from neighbors that the occupant could still be home," Ripley said. "We went into rescue mode to get inside to search and found her."
Toxic smoke from a low-intensity smoldering fire likely killed the 71-year-old woman in her sleep, Ripley said, but added the official cause of death has not yet been determined.
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An autopsy is scheduled for this afternoon, said Benton County Coroner John Hansens.
Adams was found on the couch in the living room. She was on oxygen and was said to be a smoker, so investigators are looking into whether that played a role in causing the fire.
A volunteer firefighter with the fire district lives across the street and ran to the home when he heard the emergency radio dispatch tones, Ripley said. He knocked on the doors and windows trying to get someone's attention, but there was no response from inside.
"For a couple of guys, it was their first fatal fire and they were wondering if they could have done anything different," Ripley said. "They couldn't."
He said that although firefighters quickly attempted a rescue, the fire had been smoldering for some time before it was first reported.
Seven units from the fire district and two units from Kennewick responded. The Richland Fire Department is assisting Benton County sheriff's detectives with the investigation.
There wasn't much fire damage inside or outside of the home, but Ripley said there was smoke down to the floor when crews got inside. Most fire deaths are caused by smoke, not flames, he said, adding that's why it's important to have working smoke detectors in a home.
"Give yourself every chance you can," he said. "It provides an early warning."
A smoke detector was found in the hallway, but it was not working, Ripley said.
Neighbor Laurin Rogers, a retired firefighter from the Midwest, said he recently offered to check Adams' smoke detector and change the batteries.
"She said everything was good and that she had batteries," he said. "So I don't know."
Adams lived alone -- her husband died several years ago -- and was said to be very independent and self-sufficient.
Rogers said his family tried to keep an eye out for her, but she often declined their help because she didn't want to owe anyone anything.
"When we first moved here I started mowing for her and she got really upset at me and said, 'I can't owe you,' " Rogers said. "It wasn't until I explained that it was a fire hazard that she let me do it."
Rogers said his family -- his wife and three daughters -- tried to help when they could, taking her garbage can out to the road and bringing her newspaper to her.
Adams still drove herself to the grocery store and to medical appointments, but when her health began failing, she started driving down the gravel driveway each day to get her mail.
Rogers said he told her his teenage daughters could bring her mail to her, but Adams initially said that was asking too much. When Rogers said his daughters needed some responsibilities, Adams was OK with that.
He said Adams didn't let anyone inside her home, but if she needed help with something, she would leave it on the porch.
There also was a cat on the property that Adams said she didn't want to let inside because she didn't want to become attached to it, Rogers said.
But she left food out for the cat and Rogers' family helped keep the litter box on the porch clean. He said Adams also looked happy when she went outside and the cat came running to her.
She is said to have cousins, nieces and nephews, but they live out of the area, he said.