University of Maryland Medical Center

University of Maryland Medical Center (Jed Kirschbaum / Baltimore Sun / August 10, 2009)

Fire investigators found cigarettes and a lighter in the hospital bed of a man who died in a fire at University of Maryland Medical Center, but the cause of the fire has not been conclusively determined, a report of the incident shows.

The report provides the first information released in the Nov. 8 death of William Turner, 53, at the downtown Baltimore hospital. An autopsy earlier determined that Turner died of smoke inhalation and burns that caused complications to his underlying hypertensive cardiovascular disease. His death was ruled accidental.

Investigators say the fire started on Turner's hospital bed in a room on the facility's 11th floor. The fire burned the mattress as well as envelopes and magazines, and continued to burn the bedding and Turner's lower extremities.

Investigators found a disposable lighter and a cigarette butt on the floor around the bed and a pack of Kool cigarettes in a bag on the back of a wheelchair. They said the cause of the fire could "not be fully ascertained" but ruled out an equipment malfunction or arson. They said the fire caused $30,000 worth of damage.

Smoking in the hospital is strictly prohibited, and the staff is instructed to take away cigarettes if they find them, said Mary Lynn Carver, a spokeswoman for the hospital.

She said hospital staff extinguished the fire before firefighters arrived.

"This has been very traumatic for our staff," Carver said. "They moved very quickly as soon as they smelled smoke. It's obviously traumatic to lose a patient, and they had to evacuate other patients from other rooms."

Some initial reports suggested there had been an explosion, but Carver said that did not occur. "We're very lucky the gentleman was not on oxygen, and that's why any sort of fire in a hospital can be very, very dangerous."

Attempts to reach Turner's family were unsuccessful.

jfenton@baltsun.com