Ayers: Victim of W. Phila. fire may have tried to put it out

A 63-year-old West Philadelphia woman who died in a house fire Monday night may have unsuccessfully tried to put the blaze out herself, Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers said yesterday.

Joann Toliaferro was rescued from her home on Osage Avenue near 58th Street by firefighters and rushed to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, but the burns and smoke inhalation she suffered proved too much and she died shortly thereafter, Ayers said.

The fire was reported at 5:13 p.m. and firefighters were at the middle-of-the-row dwelling within four minutes, Ayers said. Heavy smoke was seen on the second floor, where rescuers found Toliaferro trapped in a bathroom.

"When we got there, there was no way anybody was getting down those stairs," Ayers said of the steps leading upstairs.

Toliaferro had working smoke alarms, though they weren't properly mounted, he said.

Although an official cause for the fire had not been determined, Ayers said that it appears to have been accidental and that Toliaferro may have tried to put it out herself, something he warned others against.

"We ask citizens not to try to fight fire," he said. "You have to get out and stay out."

Toliaferro's death was the 30th fatal fire in the city this year. Last year, the city marked a record-low with 30 fire fatalities.

Ayers urged citizens to visit the Fire Department's website, www. freedomfromfire.com, for tips on fire prevention, especially with the onset of winter and the use of portable heating devices on the rise.