Investigators have determined that a cigarette sparked a fire that killed an elderly man last week in Cedar Rapids.
Ronald J. Gillen, 81, died in the July 16 fire at 3631 Western Pine Dr. NE. His wife, Daphne R. Gillen, 76, suffered burns to her hands and feet and smoke inhalation, but was expected to recover, officials said.
Greg Buelow, spokesman for the Cedar Rapids Fire Department, said Wednesday a cigarette ignited bedding materials in a rear bedroom, where Ronald Gillen was located. He said the unintentional fire spread quickly, burning through the roof.
“It appears he fell asleep while using smoking materials,” Buelow said.
Officials said the couple woke up and discovered the bed and floor around the bed on fire. Because of an illness, Ronald Gillen needed assistance to move himself. Buelow said Daphne Gillen was burned as she tried unsuccessfully to move her husband.
A neighbor who noticed the fire helped Daphne Gillen get down steps to safety from a back patio door.
The fire heavily damaged two bedrooms and a bathroom. Smoke and heat damage was present throughout the house, Buelow said.
Ronald Gillen, who went by “Jerry,” was a former Marine who served in both the Korean and Vietnam wars, according to an obituary published in The Gazette. Before retirement, he worked for many years as an alarm technician at the Cedar Rapids Police Department.
Gillen’s death was the second fire fatality of the year in Cedar Rapids. Kerry M. Bye, 43, died Feb. 26 in a blaze at 215 22nd St. NW.
Most fires that involve injuries or death are caused by smoking materials or unattended cooking fires, simply because people are more likely to be in the home when they happen, Buelow said. Ashes and cigarette butts can continue to smolder, and should be discarded in large, deep ashtrays, he said.