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Mother’s Final Act Saves Rest Of Family From Fire Screams Wake Husband, Daughter In Burning House

Sat., Feb. 25, 1995

Tami Swingle has two last memories of her mother - one pleasant and one horrifying.

“She was typing out my college scholarships for me at 11 last night when I came home from work,” the teary-eyed 17-year-old recalled Friday.

“She was a great mom, and always took good care of me and Dad,” the teenager said.

Early Friday, Tami Swingle awoke from a sound sleep in her basement bedroom and fled in fear.

She vividly remembers hearing her mother scream upstairs as flames enveloped the family’s rural home shortly after 4 a.m.

“I heard the glass from the windows breaking, then I heard her scream,” the East Valley High School senior said.

Tami and her father, contractor Richard Swingle, safely escaped the split-level home at E12525 Moffat, in the Foothills area, northeast of Spokane.

But Sue Swingle, a 48-year-old registered nurse who got up in the middle of the night to smoke a cigarette, died in the fire.

Before firefighters could get to the house, it was destroyed.

Tami said her mother, who was a heavy smoker, often would get up in the middle of the night and go to the living room for a cigarette.

“I guess she dozed off, or something, and the sofa or the curtain caught on fire,” the victim’s daughter said.

Sue Swingle awoke in time to alert her husband, before she grabbed a fire extinguisher.

Asleep downstairs, the teenager said she was awakened by noises upstairs.

“My Dad said she came into the bedroom and said, `I started a fire,”’ Tami said. “Then she went to get a fire extinguisher.”

Her father couldn’t get out of the bedroom because of heavy smoke, so he jumped out a window. He made his way to his daughter’s bedroom.”He said, `Call the fire department. Get out of the house,”’ Tami Swingle recalled.

She grabbed a basement telephone, but heard a beep-beep-beep sound, indicating another telephone upstairs was off the hook.

“I think my Mom tried to call upstairs, and the phone was off the hook,” the teen said.

Dropping the telephone, Tami Swingle ran out of the house through a basement door leading to the garage. She jumped in her car and raced to a neighbor’s house.

“I was standing there, pounding on the door, yelling for help, and no one would answer,” she said.

She drove to another neighbor’s house on Moffat Road and frantically called 911.

Her father, meanwhile, re-entered the burning home through a sliding door to try to find his wife. His hair was singed and he suffered smoke inhalation.

Tami Swingle returned to her burning home and stood with her father as firefighters arrived.

“I started yelling, `Mom! Mom!’ but she didn’t answer back,” the survivor said.

The family’s heeler dog, “Bria,” and a cat named “Tom,” escaped safely.

“Fires in the middle of the night - they’re the worst kind,” said Assistant Chief Jim Graue of Fire District 9.

His crews and investigators poked through the rubble, looking for the fire extinguisher.

Chief Skip Wells said the extinguisher was found in the bedroom, where the victim apparently left it for her husband.

A telephone was found on the victim’s body in the kitchen, he said.

Wells said there was a smoke detector in the home, but its battery wasn’t working. “We believe this fire may have smoldered for at least an hour and a half,” he said.

“A working smoke detector would have been a significant factor in alerting other family members.”

Tami Swingle said her mother’s last act saved the lives of her and her father.

“I just start thinking about how scared she might have been when she was screaming,” the teen said. “I just want her to know we’re OK.”

Tags: Death, fire

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