Woman who died in California fire had no way to get out

AP News
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Posted: Sep 15, 2015 12:43 AM
Woman who died in California fire had no way to get out

MIDDLETOWN, Calif. (AP) — The caretaker of a woman found dead in the ruins of her home that was destroyed by a wildfire said Monday the woman had advanced multiple sclerosis and had no way to get out.

Barbara McWilliams, 72, was a retired teacher who had settled in the Middletown area in the last year, her family said in a statement.

Her caretaker, Jennifer Hittson, said she left McWilliams' home at about 3 p.m. Saturday and after reaching her home in Kelseyville realized how serious the fire had become and called her.

A neighbor offered to take her with him to Middletown, but McWilliams declined, according to Hittson.

McWilliams, a world traveler and practicing Buddhist who lived in Middletown's Anderson Springs community, had advanced multiple sclerosis and although her mind remained sharp, she had major physical disabilities that limited her ability to walk, the 30-year-old Hittson said.

"I thought they would go and get her, but no one got out to her," Hittson told the Santa Rosa Press Democrat (http://bit.ly/1Kbct8I).

"That I left her there, it haunts me," she said.

Lake County sheriff's officials said that deputies tried to reach the woman's home at about 7:29 p.m. but the area was already engulfed in flames. Firefighting crews later found the woman's body in the burned-out home, Lake County Sheriff Brian Martin said.

Authorities have not yet officially identified McWilliams.

The Valley fire started Saturday afternoon in an area about six miles northeast of McWilliams' home.

Within 30 minutes of the initial report of the fire, Cal Fire asked Lake County deputies to start evacuating residents in that area, Lake County Sheriff Brian Martin said.

"We were literally going house to house, pulling people out of homes that had already started to catch fire," Martin said.

Hittson said she was concerned that her calls weren't taken seriously enough because the manner of dispatchers was "nonchalant."

"Someone should have gone out there," Hittson said. "They were making it impossible for civilians to get there and that left us, literally, sitting here. Someone should have gotten to her before it was too late."

Lake County officials did not immediately return calls Monday seeking comment on Hittson's criticism.