Electrical problem blamed for fatal blaze

Electrical problem blamed for fatal blaze

RANTOUL — An electrical problem was blamed for a Monday evening home fire that took the life of a Rantoul woman.

Fire Chief Ken Waters said investigators with the state fire marshal's office and the Rantoul Fire Department determined the fire started in a northeast room of the home.

Rantoul fire investigator Kevin Kaiser said the blaze was caused either by an overloaded extension cord or an electrical item.

"There was about three of those cheap extension cords like you use for a Christmas tree. She had (them) hooked up with about nine or 10 different things plugged in ... that was all plugged into one circuit," Kaiser said.

Nearby was a lamp that had melted. Kaiser said investigators were unsure if the overloaded extension cord or the lamp caused the blaze.

The fire took the life of the sole human occupant — Carla Phipps, 58.

The fire began in a room in the northeast corner of the home at 400 S. Steffler St.

Ms. Phipps was discovered by a fire department team and brought outside, where emergency personnel performed CPR on her. She was taken away by ambulance to Carle Foundation Hospital, Urbana.

Champaign County Coroner Duane Northrup pronounced her dead at 8:20 p.m.

The fire was reported about 7:30 p.m. It was under control 20 minutes later.

Rantoul police Sgt. Marcus Beach said when officers arrived, they were alerted by bystanders that someone might be in the house.

Waters said Ms. Phipps was found in the bathroom.

"Apparently she tried to get out and couldn't see her way out because of all the dense smoke," Waters said. "The smoke was horrendous. You couldn't see your hand in front of you. It was pitch black."

Waters said a teenager coming home from a football game at Rantoul Township High School noticed the fire and alerted authorities.

Waters said the fire could have been burning for 15 to 20 minutes before it was discovered. He based that statement on how much damage the fire did.

He estimated damage to the home at $40,000. The worst damage occurred in the room where the fire started.

Kaiser said the room was Ms. Phipps' bedroom, and there was a great deal of material in the room.

"There were paper products, books, clutter and clothing," Kaiser said.

The rest of the house suffered heavy smoke damage.

Waters said firefighters returned to the scene Tuesday morning to handle a reignite.

"Some books were still smoldering on the bedding," he said.

Ms. Phipps is believed to have owned three cats. Waters said one of the cats was found dead in the house.

"The other two, they never did find them," Waters said, "so they might have got out."

Ms. Phipps, a retired waitress, told a reporter in July 2011 that she had lived all but two years of her life at the residence, where she was raised. She was an avid collector of newspaper comic strips.

Rantoul firefighters received mutual aid from Thomasboro, which sent five firefighters.

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