Fatal Fire Began in Living Room

WHEELING — Embers from a fireplace may have started the late-Saturday blaze that took the life of a Wheeling woman, but electricity has not been ruled out as a possible cause.

Today, Wheeling Fire Chief Larry Helms said the fire that claimed the life of Sarah Opal Thomas, 74, began at about 11 p.m. in the living room of the home at 12 Greenwood Ave. in the Dimmeydale section of the city. The chief said the cause of the fire is not suspicious, and investigators believe Thomas died of smoke inhalation. The cause of death, however, has not been officially determined.

According to Helms, the victim’s husband, Harold Thomas, 77, was treated for burns at a local hospital, but he is expected to fully recover.

The chief said Harold Thomas told investigators his wife woke him after hearing the smoke detector.

Helms said Harold Thomas went to the downstairs of the home and opened the front door. According to the chief, the influx of oxygen caused by the open door exacerbated the blaze and hindered the department’s efforts to rescue Opal Thomas.

“The smoke was too great for him to go back up stairs,” Helms said. “He opened the door, the oxygen got in and it flashed. That influx of air caused the fire downstairs to become heightened. We had to extinguish the fire (downstairs) to gain entry to facilitate a rescue.”

Helms said the fire is still under investigation. He said the Wheeling Fire Department will meet to “critique” its handling of the emergency. According to Helms, such an evaluation is standard procedure for the department.

Opal Thomas was a retired nurse from Peterson Rehabilitation Hospital and Geriatric Center in Wheeling. Harold Thomas is the Senior Business Development Officer for Progressive Bank and past president and CEO at Wheeling National Bank. He is well-known for his portrayal of Uncle Sam during the annual July Fourth parade held in Dimmeydale. The couple recently celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary.