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Careless smoking cause of apartment fire in Olivia

OLIVIA — Careless smoking is the apparent cause of the fire that damaged an apartment unit Feb. 7 at Westcourt Apartments in Olivia. The body of the apartment’s tenant was later discovered.

Billy Eugene Camper, 64, of Olivia, died of natural causes before the fire broke out in his apartment, an autopsy by the Ramsey County Medical Examiner determined.

His cause of death is attributed to atherosclerotic and hypertensive cardiovascular disease.

A report by John Steinbach, the investigating fire marshal, identifies a plastic trash container holding hundreds of discarded cigarette butts and trash as the point of the fire’s origin.

A reconstruction of the fire scene and burn patterns clearly show the fire originated in the container. The plastic trash container was located in a corner of the living room where the body of the deceased victim was found on a couch, according to the report.

Camper was known to be a heavy smoker, the report noted.

An electric space heater, electric heating pad, floor lamp and end table lamp were all plugged into a multi-plug adapter in a receptacle in the corner. The investigation found that electrical arcing activity found in the line cords from the appliances was consistent with fire attacking the energized cords, a result of the fire and not the cause.

The investigator found that the apartment unit’s hardwired/battery backup smoke detector from the bedroom was set atop a refrigerator in the kitchen. The combination smoke and carbon monoxide detector from the apartment’s hallway was missing.

Interviews indicated that some tenants take down their smoke detectors after they’ve been inspected.

The fire was discovered shortly after 7 a.m. by a visitor to the apartments who noticed smoke in the hallway and pulled a fire alarm.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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