Mom's cigarette started fire that injured infant

SANDUSKY A cigarette caused the Oct. 18 apartment fire that left 18 people homeless and an infant ba
Sandusky Register Staff
May 24, 2010



A cigarette caused the Oct. 18 apartment fire that left 18 people homeless and an infant badly burned.

Ruled unintentional, the fire spread through the four-story 1517 Columbus Ave. building after starting in 19-year-old Brittney Penfield's apartment, according to a Sandusky Fire Department report released Monday.

The blaze began after Penfield placed a cigarette on a sofa bed when she entered the second-floor unit. About 15 minutes later Penfield heard her 10-month-old daughter, Tashiya Johnson, scream.

Penfield grabbed her daughter and fled to safety. The girl suffered third-degree burns before the two escaped.

Nearly 10-foot-tall ceilings kept smoke trapped from hallway smoke detectors as flamescontinued to build, said Rudy Ruiz, fire safety inspector.

"The structure is sound, it's a pretty old building, it's pretty solid," he said, adding that Erie County Metropolitan Housing crews are working on repairs.

The eight-unit apartment building sustained $150,000 structural damage and $36,000 content damage, the report said.

An investigative report conducted by Sandusky police detectives has yet to be released. Erie County Prosecutor Kevin Baxter will review the report and consider charges that could include child endangering if Penfield's actions were reckless.

"It's questionable whether or not the elements would fit under that," he said Monday.

Penfield declined comment Monday.

Meanwhile, her daughter was transferred to the burn unit of Shriner's Hospitals for Children in Cincinnati last week to continue her long road to recovery.

To date about $9,000 has been used to aid families displaced after the fire, said Ron Rude, executive director of the American Red Cross Firelands Chapter.

"Many of them are looking for new places to live," he said, adding that all residents are now living with family or friends.

David Bier owns the property. His wife said he declined to comment Monday.