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Woman Dies in Hope Ranch Fire

Authorities search for cause of fatal blaze that destroyed two-story house.

A fire destroyed a two-story home in Hope Ranch over the weekend, leaving an elderly woman dead, authorities said.

Fire officials Monday did not release the name, but KEYT News is reporting that the victim was 94-year-old Charline Whittaker, the daughter of New York City’s first black police commissioner in the 1920s.

At least two other people live in the home, but were not on the premises at the time of the fire, which was reported about 8:30 p.m. Saturday, said Capt. Eli Iskow, spokesman for the Santa Barbara County Fire Department.

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The cause of the fire at 1480 Cantera Ave. is under investigation, but Iskow said it appears the blaze ignited on the first floor of the house. Whittaker was home alone at the time, on the first floor, he said.

"The interior of the home is pretty much destroyed — the whole first floor," Iskow said. "Some of the second story is not destroyed, but there’s severe smoke damage. Usually in this kind of situation they just take the whole house down."

The fire caused an estimated $1 million in damage, authorities said.

There have been a higher-than-average number of fire fatalities this year, Iskow said, adding that Whittaker is the fourth or fifth in unincorporated Santa Barbara County.

There was a functioning fire alarm in the house, Iskow said. In emphasizing the importance of smoke alarms, Iskow hinted that age may have rendered the victim unable to hear the beeping.

"There was probably an extenuating circumstance that caused this person to die in the fire," he said. "That reason will probably be released by the coroner."

Fire alarms should be installed and tested regularly, Iskow said. He added that some fire alarms for the hearing-impaired come with strobe lights.

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