Questions remain unanswered in a house fire that Baton Rouge authorities believe may have taken the life of a 72-year-old woman early Sunday morning.
Officials could not give many details about the fire as investigators spent all day Sunday sifting through evidence, trying to discover the fire’s origins.
Firefighters were called to 1211 N. 49th St. at 3:05 a.m. for a reported house fire and they arrived about six minutes later, Baton Rouge Fire Department spokesman Robert Combs said.
Firefighters found about 90 percent of the house in flames and extinguished the fire about 18 minutes later.
The body of Doris Antwine, who officials said lived alone at the house, was found among the charred wooden beams and mangled furniture.
Her death is not being treated as a homicide, but that could change pending autopsy results, said Cpl. L’Jean McKneely, a Baton Rouge Police Department spokesman.
Police tape was still up more than 15 hours after the fire and a marked Baton Rouge police patrol unit stood watch at a lot across North 49th Street. The officer inside told men who stopped in front of his car that they are on 24-hour watch.
McKneely said he did not know why units were at the house and people in the neighborhood said the units had been there all day.
Antwine rented the house from Charles and Clara White. The property owners said they have not been given any details as to what happened.
Charles White said officials would not allow him on the property for several hours after the fire, saying they would get back to him in a few days.
“It’s just so hard to fathom that she had to die like that,” Clara White said.
“She was a pillar of the community,” Charles White added.
Donald Wilson Jr., who lives across Odell Street, called 911 to report the fire.
“I couldn’t sleep and I was fixing to get a midnight snack when I heard a boom,” Wilson said.
At first, he thought there had been a car accident because the light coming through his curtains looked like someone had their emergency flashers on. But he did not see anything when he looked out the window.
His son told him to look again and he saw the house on fire with flames as high as the telephone pole across the street.
Bridget Brady lived in the house behind Antwine’s. She also heard a boom — “like someone was shooting a shotgun,” she said. That was followed by two successive booms about 10 seconds apart.
“I looked out my bedroom window and all I saw was smoke,” she said, peering over her fence at the charred remains of the house. “I was just hoping to God that she wasn’t in there.”
Brady had known Antwine for about 16 years and the two worked together about five or six years ago in food service at Capitol Middle School, which is within walking distance to Antwine’s house.
“She was a good-hearted person,” Brady said. “You couldn’t meet a better person.”
She described the fire as “suspicious” because of the speed at which the house caught on fire.
“I just cannot understand how the house could catch fire like that,” she said. “I know that common sense tells me this is too suspicious looking. I would love to know what caused the fire.”