Fire Marshal: Kids playing with lighter caused fire that killed 4

53-year-old woman, 3 grandchildren killed in blaze in June

By Ashley Harding - Reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - A fire that killed a 53-year-old woman and her three grandchildren in June was caused by children playing with a lighter in the front bedroom of the house, according to the State Fire Marshal's Office.

Investigators ruled the fire accidental.

The blaze destroyed the double-wide mobile home on Palmetto Street in Oceanway, killing Sheila Swearingen, 53; Janet Fowler, 10 months; Rachel Fowler, 2; and Richard "Bubba" Fowler Jr., 4.

Six-year-old Hattie Fowler was rescued from the fire by a 13-year-old who was riding by on his bicycle. She was hospitalized, but released the next day.

DOCUMENT: State Fire Marshal's report on fatal fire
IMAGES: Fire destroys home, takes 4 lives

The Fire Marshal's Office said the fire started in the bedroom adjacent to the living room. They said the grandmother and infant Janet were in the master bedroom at the time.

Investigators said Hattie told them the fire started while her brother and sister were playing with a lighter. Investigators said the fire scene matched what she told them.

"The burn patterns and heat tracking in this house and in this bedroom indicate the fire started in the area of the front window of this front bedroom south of the front door," the report reads. "It burned through the wall into the foyer and out the door into the hallway and throughout the rest of the house."

Investigators said the fire blowing out the bedroom door would have hindered any escape down the hall from the master bedroom, where the four victims were found by firefighters.

Detectives said the boy who rescued Hattie "ran in the house to the bedroom door and got the little girl and carried her out. He then went for help."

In the two months since the fire, the mobile home has been torn down and the memorial built for the family removed.

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