Fire House

A worker prepares to lower a ladder Thursday after boarding up a window on the first floor of a house at 169-171 Highland St. in Laconia that was extensively damaged in a fire Wednesday afternoon in which a woman died. The woman, Virginia Higgins, 89, lived in the first-floor apartment. (Michael Mortensen/The Laconia Daily Sun photo)

LACONIA — The fire which claimed the life of a local woman Wednesday appears to have been caused by an electrical malfunction, the city fire chief said Thursday.

The victim was Virginia Higgins, according to her daughter Sue Higgins, who owns the three-story duplex at 169-171 Highland St.

The elder Higgins lived in the first floor apartment where the fire occurred.

“The fire is still under investigation, but it was accidental, and looks like the cause by something electrical,” Fire Chief Kirk Beattie said.

The state Fire Marshal’s Office is heading up the investigation. The Laconia Fire Department and Laconia Police Department are assisting in the probe.

“I believe she was asleep in her bedroom when the fire started,” said Sue Higgins, who with her husband, state Rep. Gregg Hough, lives in the upstairs apartment. “She would usually take a nap in the early afternoon,” she said of her mother Thursday morning.

The first firefighters who arrived on the scene at about 2 p.m. Wednesday found the elder Mrs. Higgins unconscious in the living room located in the front of the house. Her bedroom was in the back of the residence.

Firefighters/EMTs immediately started CPR on Mrs. Higgins in an attempt to resuscitate her. She was then rushed to Lakes Region General Hospital three blocks away. She was pronounced dead at the hospital a short time later.

An autopsy by the state medical examiner on Thursday concluded Mrs. Higgins died from smoke inhalation, according to a statement released by the state Fire Marshal’s Office.

Beattie said there was heavy fire damage in the first-floor bedroom. Sue Higgins said the fire destroyed the bed.

Both the chief and Sue Higgins said that Mrs. Higgins received extensive burns over much of her body.

Mrs. Higgins was the only person in the building when the fire happened, the chief said.

Beattie said he was still trying to ascertain whether there were working smoke detectors in the residence.

Mrs. Higgins was 89, two months shy of her 90th birthday, her daughter said. During her younger years Mrs. Higgins worked at the old Star Market in Gilford, and later went to work in the kitchen at Taylor Home, where she worked until about 10 years ago when she retired. She was active in the Laconia Emblem Club for many years.

Beattie estimated the damage to the building at about $60,000.

Sue Higgins said she and her husband were still trying to assess the full extent of the damage.

Two dogs and a cat were rescued from the building at the time of the fire. A second cat was missing for a time but was found safe Wednesday evening.

Sue Higgins and Hough were allowed to return to the building at 9 p.m. Wednesday, after investigators had finished their on-scene analysis, Beattie said.

It was the first fatal fire in the city in seven years, Beattie noted. A 76-year-old man died in February 2014, when a four-alarm fire destroyed an apartment building on Davis Place. In 1989, two children died in a fire in a house on New Salem Street.

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