Cigarette butt likely cause of deadly Roanoke Rapids fire

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A cigarette butt appears to have started a deadly fire at a retirement center in Roanoke Rapids.

Neighbors are grappling with the death of one of their own at Becker Manor, a senior citizen apartment community in Roanoke Rapids.

A boarded up window on the second floor represents a tragic ending.

Neighbor Carolyn Coburn had just returned home from shopping Wednesday night when she saw the chaos unfold.

"I felt sorry for the people," Coburn said.

It happened at an apartment building for the elderly and disabled.

About 9 p.m., Roanoke Rapids firefighters and police responded to smoke and flames shooting from the second-floor apartment belonging to Evelyn Welch.

Firefighters say once they got the fire under control they found the 71-year-old's body and a cigarette near her bed.

They believe she had been smoking and caused the fire.

"Smoking in bed is very dangerous," Mike Clements, Deputy Fire Chief said. "Also this resident was on supplemental oxygen which could also fuel a fire in such an instance. Those two combined create a very deadly combination."

No other residents in this senior citizen apartment community were injured.

At least 60 of them took shelter at First Pentecostal Holiness Church next door.

Today they are remembering a neighbor -- lost in one of the worst ways.

"It's very tragic, very tragic. We don't see a lot of death in our community so when we do it hits home," Clements said.

Firefighters say smoking is the leading cause of structure fires. They urge people to dispose of cigarettes properly and avoid smoking in bed.

Neighbors who live at Becker Manor say smoking is allowed inside the apartment homes.

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