Woman unable to escape blaze

Firefighters use an ax to chip away at an exterior wall of a burning house at 216 Seventh St. in Skidmore May 13 in an attempt to gain entry.

SKIDMORE – An investigation is underway to determine the cause of a fire that claimed a woman’s life.

Firefighters were called to the single-story home at 216 7th St. at approximately 2 p.m. May 13. Chief Ty Toelken of the Skidmore Volunteer Fire Department said those responding had many challenges along the way in getting the fire under control.

“It was made more difficult by the stuff that was inside. There was stuff everywhere,” he said. “The windows were boarded up (from the inside) with pallets and two-by-fours. Every way in was blocked. The only way in was through the back door.”

Firefighters from Skidmore, Beeville, Papalote and Tynan who responded to the scene worked to find ways to enter the home as heavy smoke continued to pour out, even resorting at one point to using a sledgehammer, ax and chain saw to break through an exterior wall.

Investigator Derek Franco of the Bee County Sheriff’s Office said a man and woman lived in the house, but he was unsure as to the nature of their relationship. The man escaped from the home uninjured and was evaluated at the scene by Angel Care EMS.

However, the woman did not make it out of the house alive. Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Ronnie Jones identified her as 54-year-old Marnie Martinez-Harrison.

“It appears that the victim tried to escape at one point,” he said. “It appears she passed from smoke inhalation.”

Jones said an autopsy was conducted May 14, which was the same day that the Texas State Fire Marshal’s Office began its part of the investigation into the fire.

For Toelken, this incident underscores the importance of having clear routes for exiting a home in case of a fire. 

“If nothing else, the lesson to take away from all of this is that if you have a fire, have a way to get out,” Toelken said. “Because here, there was no way to get out.”