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Neighbors and Coworkers Remember Washington House Fire Victim

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WASHINGTON- Investigators in Washington still haven't determined yet what caused the fire that killed Clara Pearson, 87, Thursday night.

But Fire Chief Tom Wide said authorities suspect the cause of death will be ruled smoke inhalation. And they also believe the fire at 744 East Jefferson Street started somewhere in the kitchen.

But the day after the deadly fire, people in Washington were remembering Clara Pearson for another reason. They were remembering how she was an obstetrics nurse at Washington Community Hospital for many years. And how she rocked practically every baby born at the hospital for decades.

Wide said firefighters managed to get Clara Pearson out of her burning home in just minutes after the call at 8:45 p.m. Thursday. But it was too late. Medical personnel pronounced her dead at the hospital where she worked until retirement more than 20 years ago.

One neighbor, Dick Colby, paused on his walk in front of the damaged home to remember other walks when Pearson was always working in her yard. "She was just a nice lady, very friendly," Colby said "waving all the time—I'm sad to see her gone."

Residents with older children especially remembered Pearson from hospital stays in the hospital's maternity ward. Retired Washington County Hospital head nurse Linda McNeil was both a patient and a boss. McNeil said Pearson helped deliver her youngest child in 1975. And Pearson was still there, for a few years, when McNeil took the job as hospital head nurse.

"She was just one of those people who everybody liked. If you needed anything she was Johnny-on-the-spot to get it," McNeil said.

Neighbors said Pearson had slowed in recent years and depended on an adult son who stopped by the home to help. Karen Lorence moved next door to Pearson in 1985—and immediately recognized her as the O.B. nurse who helped deliver her last two children.

Lorence said the two were close over the years as next-door neighbors and she was taking the loss very hard.

"It was hard, I'm keeping it together now, but last night it was really bad," she said.

Fire chief Wide said the Iowa Fire Marshal's office is assisting with the investigation. While there is no definite cause yet, the chief said investigators have narrowed it down to a couple of possibilities.

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