Marlboro, Vt., house fire: Cause of death ruled smoke inhalation

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MARLBORO, VT. — The two women killed in a fire on March 7 died of smoke inhalation, according to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner of Vermont.

Elizabeth Ann Milligan, 46, and her sister Laura Jean Milligan, 41, died in a residential fire at 5113 Auger Hole Road in Marlboro on Monday afternoon last week. Neighbors and passersby arrived before the fire department did and had commented that they had a hard time believing that anyone was alive at that point given the amount of smoke. The Vermont State Police Arson Unit's investigation is still pending and at this time the cause of the fire is undetermined; it does not appear to be suspicious and the origin was on the second floor, but away from the two daughters according to Detective Sergeant Steven Otis at the Vermont State Police.

"Whatever caused it is no longer there because it was consumed by the fire," said Otis.

As a result of the fire damage, the house is considered "a total loss," by Vermont State Police. As reported by Lt. Dan Trudeau, Criminal Investigator at Vermont State Police, in conversing with Nancy Milligan the mother of the two sisters, on the day of the fire Nancy was downstairs, one daughter was upstairs all day and other daughter left the house. Later on the daughter returned home, went upstairs and then within about a half hour of her return the fire started.

At 2:30 p.m. a first alarm went out to the Marlboro and Williamsville fire departments for an electrical fire with all occupants out of the building, according to Marlboro Fire Chief David Elliot. The fire was upgraded to a second alarm while Elliott was "en route still" with an engine. According to Fire Mutual Aid the Marlboro Fire Department arrived at the scene at 2:47 p.m. and Chief Elliot said Williamsville had arrived slightly before Marlboro. According to Laura and Elizabeth's death certificates, the "time of injury" was around 2:15 p.m.

Otis noted that he has not questioned Nancy Milligan about the incident much since the day of the fire, but hopes to speak with her sometime this week.

"We're still trying to put the pieces together," said Otis.

Nancy told Trudeau that the she and her two daughters tried to extinguish the fire, but failed. He also added that they tried to remove several of their pets from the second floor and Nancy moved some of them to her car.

"[Nancy] had some animals, brought some animals into her car, when she came back inside it was too smoky and she was forced out of the house," said Trudeau. "What I know about fires where they're fatal, it's not uncommon to die when trying to get personal property or pets out, they get overtaken by the smoke."

Trudeau also noted that it did not appear that any medical issue was preventing them from walking out of the house, but that they may have become involved with trying remove the animals.

"In a nutshell, the arson unit tries to determine origin and cause; that's been done to the extent they can," said Trudeau. "The house is destroyed, they'll probably never get an actual answer of how it started, they can only base it on what they see as things are falling down and based on that, the cause is undetermined but not suspicious."

Anyone with information about or having had seen the house on fire prior to the Marlboro Fire Department's arrival is encouraged to contact Detective Sergeant Steven Otis at the Vermont State Police, Rockingham Barracks, at 802-875-2112.

Maddi Shaw can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 275.


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