Confirmed Fire Cause: ‘Smoking-Related Materials’

By Jason Schock

Nebraska State Fire Marshal Mark Sloup Thursday morning in essence confirmed Tuesday’s Falls City Journal report that a Jan. 20 house fire that led to the death of 57-year-old Barbara J. Walker “originated in the living room portion of the dwelling, as a result of smoking materials.”

Mrs. Walker died Sunday, Jan. 25, in a Lincoln hospital, five days after local firemen seemingly pulled her to safety as flames and smoke engulfed her home at 2020 Wilson St. A California native, Mrs. Walker, and her husband Jerry, moved to Falls City in 1991.

When reached by phone Monday, Sloupe declined to release the findings of his investigation after first learning of Mrs. Walker’s death from this reporter, but The Journal cited a trusted anonymous source – a member of the Falls City Volunteer Fire Dept. – who linked the fire to “a lit cigarette.”

Members of the FC Volunteer Fire Dept., the FC Rural Fire Dept., police, ambulance and emergency management officials responded to the call at 11:21 a.m. and were on the scene at 11:24, according to Assistant Fire Chief John McQueen (The Journal previously reported times of 11:57 and 12:04, as reported by Second Assistant Chief Jim Liming). The house already had flames erupting from southwest windows on the first floor. According to both Liming and John McQueen, paid driver John White was on duty in the fire station at the time, which expedited the response. Longtime FC Fire Chief Ken Simpson was taking his vacation and not available.

Liming said he, veteran firefighter Jason Hall and rookies Tom Hamilton and Brandon Pierce conducted a rapid search of the downstairs for the occupant, while Rural Fire Chief Mike Ramsey and Shawn Fouraker conducted a search of the second floor.  

“The occupant was located in the downstairs and rapidly evacuated to the care of the ambulance squad,” Liming said. 

Mrs. Walker was taken to Community Medical Center and then flown by Life Flight to a Lincoln hospital. She received round-the-clock care for five days before succumbing to her injuries Sunday. A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday at Dorr and Clark Funeral Home in Falls City. 

It was reported that Mrs. Walker called her husband on his cell phone and he was the one who made the initial 911 call. McQueen and Liming both urged the public to call 911 in case of an emergency, not family or friends. 

“Minutes could mean the difference in saving a life,” McQueen said. 

“Call ‘911’ before contacting friends or family – this will cut down the response time and may save property and lives,” Liming added. 

The Nebraska State Fire Marshal’s Office was notified and two investigators arrived mid-afternoon to begin their investigation. The fire scene was released at 5:45 p.m.

The home, occupied by the Walkers, is owned by Charles Clary. 

McQueen and Liming praised the efforts of all involved, especially the newest rookies of the department, for their efforts. A total of 14 city and six rural firemen responded. McQueen also wanted to praise the efforts of the FC Rural Fire Dept. for their help and support. 

Barbara J. Walker, 57, of Falls City, was born on June 24, 1957 in Oshkosh, to the late Glen and Viola (Chesmore) Atkinson.

She moved to Alpaugh, CA, at the age of 12 and graduated from Alpaugh High School in 1976. On Oct. 1, 1977 she married Jerry W. Walker. When married, the couple established their home in Alpaugh, where she was a teacher’s aide for Alpaugh Public Schools. the couple moved to Fresno, CA where they lived until 1991. She worked at Falls City Care Center as a nurse’s aide. She also worked at Victory Village until 2007 when she retired due to her health.

Barbara was a member of the Good News Assembly of God Church in Falls City. 

She is survived by her husband Jerry W. Walker, of Falls City. Sisters; Dorothy Ebel, St. Joseph, MO and Shirley Wilson, Arkansas City, KS.

She was preceded in death by her parents and brothers, Joseph and Roy Morgan. 

A memorial will be held on Saturday, Jan. 31, 2015 at 2 p.m. at Dorr and Clark Funeral Home, with Rev. John Sipf officiating. 

Family will receive friends on Friday, Jan. 30 from 6-7 p.m. at Dorr and Clark Funeral Home.

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