Autopsy set after Champaign mobile home fire

CHAMPAIGN — An autopsy was scheduled for Saturday for a woman who died when fire consumed her north Champaign mobile home early Friday.

Champaign County Coroner Duane Northrup said Norma J. Munds, 76, died at her home at 17 Apricot Drive following a fire reported at 7:19 a.m. in the Shadow Wood Mobile Home Park, 1600 block of North Market Street. The mobile home was destroyed.

Champaign Fire Chief Doug Forsman confirmed that Ms. Munds was found in the bedroom. A man described as her companion of many years was taken to Presence Covenant Medical Center in Urbana with burns to his arms. He was treated and released.

Champaign police Detective Joe Johnston declined to identify that man, who was sleeping when the fire broke out.

"He woke to the sound of a smoke alarm and was able to get himself out. He attempted to go back in but could not because of the smoke and the heat," said Johnston, adding there was nothing apparently sinister in how the fire started.

Johnston is routinely called to help investigate fires involving death or the loss of a large amount of property.

Fire Chief Doug Forsman said he called for additional help because of the problem firefighters were having in getting inside to fight the flames due to the accumulation of property. At least 30 minutes after the fire was initially reported, flames could still be seen in the bedroom area.

Firefighters broke out windows to try to get in and knock the fire down, only to be stopped by mounds of items stacked in front of the windows. Once the fire was out, it was apparent that the mobile home was filled to capacity with possessions.

A van in the driveway was also stuffed with items, with only the driver's seat visible.

"Officially (the cause) will be undetermined, but it will be related to hoarding," Johnston said. "All the stuff accumulated acts as fuel."

Norbert Sterling, a neighbor, said he knew Ms. Munds used a wheelchair. Johnston said he was told she had mobility problems but he was unaware how severe they were.

Sterling said he's lived in the park 25 years and believed the couple had been there at least as long.

Fire investigators spent the better part of the day trying to figure out where and how the fire started. An end-loader was brought in to help them move the debris.

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