Fire Chief says fatal Christmas day blaze was preventable: ‘A smoke alarm could have saved this person’s life’

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Graciela Ramirez on left.

ANACORTES, Wash. — With cold temperatures in the forecast, firefighters across Puget Sound are reminding families to be extra careful when trying to stay warm.

Graciela Ramirez died in a fire early Christmas morning in Skagit County. Fire officials said her death was avoidable.

The fire smoldered inside Ramirez’ hotel room for nearly an hour, according to firefighters. Ramirez never made it out.

“A $15 smoke alarm would have saved this person’s life,” said Anacortes Fire Department Chief Richard Curtis.

Ramirez, 49, didn’t survive. The Skagit County Coroner’s Office ruled her death was an accident, saying she died from smoke inhalation.

Curtis said the tragedy that happened at the Sunrise Inn Villas and Suites could have been prevented if only a few measures had been taken.

“It doesn’t have to be a big explosive fire, it can be just as deadly if not more to have a slow smoldering fire like this was,” he said.

The Anacortes Fire Department recently posted a video to YouTube which provides an up-close look at the damage.

“There is a pillow laying right in front of the fireplace and that’s where the fire started,” Curtis said while narrating the online video.

He said the fireplace’s radiant heat ignited a pillow sitting too close to the flames.

“It caught the couch on fire and burned through the couch part way. It was a really simple thing to do to prevent this fire from occurring had there been no combustibles or pillow 3 feet away from that fireplace,” he said.

The room Ramirez had been staying in did not have a smoke detector, said Curtis. He believed the device had likely been removed a number of years prior to the fire.

He added that Ramirez’ bedroom door had also been left open, and believes she could have survived if the door had been closed to block toxic smoke and fumes.

“It’s really a life saver,” said Curtis. “It’s a simple thing. You need to sleep with the doors closed and that provides an excellent barrier.”

“Behind me, you can see the escape window is blocked by a desk, that’s not a good situation,” Curtis’ narration continued.

He said people should always plan at least two escape routes out of a bedroom in case of fire.

Now that winter is bearing down on Western Washington, Curtis hopes the Christmas day fire is a reminder for all of us to take extra precautions when trying to stay warm so more families like Graciela’s don’t have to face the same kind of preventable tragedy.

“In this instance, there are just really simple steps people can take prevent a bad fire from occurring from the first place,” he said.

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