MIAMI (CBSMiami) – A 56-year-old disabled woman has died following a fire in her duplex and investigators say the blaze may have started after she fell asleep while smoking a cigarette.

Ironically, the bars that were on the windows of her home for crime protection may have also prevented her from escaping. And one neighbor also said she may have heard the woman banging on her walls for help but she never thought the woman was in danger.

“I heard noises around 12:30 in the morning that kept going on and on. And there was banging and banging. But I went back to sleep,” said Jeanine Burnett Quinnie, who was one of the neighbors living in the other apartment in the duplex.

“Then around 4 o’clock, the alarm went off and the noise was so loud that the house was shaking,” Quinnie told CBS4’s Peter D’Oench. “I thought someone was trying to break into the house.”

Even though she heard noises from the smoke alarm, neighbors did not take action until they felt a burning sensation in their eyes.

“I went back to the rear apartment and I smelled smoke and I banged on the door and there was no answer,” said neighbor Lashan Burnett. “That’s when I called 911. When I got there the smoke was pouring out. She was definitely in that apartment. That’s what I told them.”

Lt. Ignatius Carroll told D’Oench that the first call to 911 was not received until 9:05 a.m., about eight and half hours after the first noises were heard inside the woman’s apartment.

“Firefighters were met by a column of smoke when they entered the apartment and found a lady on the ground unresponsive,” he said. “Had the neighbors not felt a burning in their eyes, there could have been even more casualties.”

Carroll told D’Oench, “It appears that this was an accidental fire, that the woman may have fallen asleep while smoking a cigarette. When firefighters were inside the apartment, they found a lot of cigarette butts.”

“The woman who lived in the apartment had some type of walking disability and had something there that helped her walk,” said Carroll. “We’re trying to determine if she was making calls for help to get some attention. It’s very heart wrenching that the woman who lives in the unit with bars on the windows may have been making calls for help.”

Miami Police have not identified the woman.

Her daughter and other family members came to the scene and consoled each other with hugs. But they declined to say anything about the incident.

Miami Police homicide investigators were initially called to the scene because it was not known if the fire could have been set.


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