Officials identify woman who died in garage fire

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With help from the Jefferson County Coroner's Office, officials have established the identity of the sole victim who died in a fire in her car Sunday.

After comparing dental records, the victim has been positively identified as Joan Kathleen Stephenson, 55. The doctor who performed the autopsy determined the cause of death was smoke inhalation. According to police, Stephenson lived alone in the townhouse at 3851 West Sixth St. in Ridgeview.

Craig Police and Craig Fire/Rescue responded to the residence Sunday after neighbors reported an explosion and fire at the residence.

Residents of the cul-de-sac said Stephenson was not just a neighbor but a member of the family.

"We're grief stricken," said one neighbor who complained that the area has been flooded by curious onlookers since Sunday's accident.

The cause of the fire appears to be the result of a tragic accident. Earlier in the day, Stephenson had placed a plastic gas container on the floor of her car. This allowed vapors to accumulate inside the vehicle for an undetermined period of time. Fire investigators said Stephenson apparently lit a cigarette while sitting in the driver's seat of her car, which caused the explosion and subsequent fire.

Craig Fire/Rescue Chief Roy Mason said the vapor explosion ignited the interior of the car, and probably blew out the side windows of the vehicle, which were found shattered.

The gas container melted down on itself, but Mason said it was still half full after the fire was extinguished.

Police said the investigation into the incident is complete.

Jeremy Browning can be reached at 824-7031 or jbrowning@craigdailypress.com.

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