Wayne County fire kills one, seriously injures another

Thursday, March 5, 2009

DES ARC, Mo. -- Authorities continue to investigate a fire that killed a Des Arc woman and left her boyfriend in a St. Louis hospital with extensive burns.

"About 2 o'clock Monday morning, the call came into the fire department for a structure fire" on Highway 49, north of Piedmont, "just inside our county line," explained Wayne County Sheriff Phillip Burton. "When (firefighters) got there, it was fully involved."

Sherry Lenz, 45, died in the fire, while her boyfriend, Ron Ruble, 44, was flown to St. John's Mercy Medical Center in St. Louis for treatment of what Burton described as extensive burns to his arm, neck, head and back.

Ruble is listed in critical condition, according to a hospital spokesman.

"They had already air evaced (Ruble) when I arrived," Burton said. "Fire personnel and ambulance personnel on the scene said he was the one to go for help (after) he tried to get her out.

" ... He went just a couple of hundred of yards up the road" to a neighbor's house, where he called the fire department.

The investigation, according to Burton, has been turned over to Wayne County Coroner Gary Umfleet and Rod Hoelscher, an investigator with the State Fire Marshal's Office.

Both men indicate they also are waiting to talk to Ruble.

Umfleet said the cause of death for Lenz, who was disabled and unable to walk, hasn't been determined. No autopsy or toxicology analyses, he said, are planned.

There is nothing left of the two-story, wood-frame house, which was "just completely on the ground," Burton said.

"Where or how (the fire started), I have no idea," Hoelscher said. "The entire house portion was gone, gone, burned. Everything was in the basement, including her body.

"There was part, just a small section of the north wall, that was left. Everything else was gone."

Hoelscher said he could tell the fire was on the south end of the house and went north.

Although the house had a wood stove, "I have no idea how the fire started or where it was," he said. "There is absolutely nothing left, but the basement walls."

Hoelscher said he found a scooter chair, believed to have been used by Lenz, who suffered a stroke a little while back, in the debris on the other side of the house.

"She would be in the bedroom upstairs, which was now in the basement," he said.

Hoelscher said he needs to talk with Ruble, who is suffering from second-degree burns on his back, head and arm.

"He had to go out the window," Hoelscher said. "He tried to get her out, couldn't get her out (and) went out the window."

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