Deadly fire caused by hair dryer used to warm feet

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Misuse of a blow dryer is being blamed for a house fire that killed a father and his teenage daughter. Investigators say a blow dryer was left running at the base of mattress -- causing the mattress to catch fire.

It started around 2:30 Wednesday morning  in the 5800 block of Guthrie Avenue in Richmond. The adult male in the house was using the blow dryer to keep his feet warm.

Four people were inside house when the fire started. Relatives have identified the victims as 49-year-old James Harvey Junior and his 15-year-old daughter, Jessica.

Lorraine Baltz says Harvey was her favorite uncle.

"He was such a good guy. He was hilarious he always loved to make the kids laugh," said Baltz.

Investigators say, Harvey and Jessica tried to put out the fire but couldn't. They then tried to get the burning mattress out of the house. The mattress ended up getting stuck in the stairwell -- blocking their exit from the home. Neighbors are stunned.

"All of this is just unbelievable -- just unbelievable. I'm so sorry," said Rita Mattia.

Harvey's other teen daughter, Jamie, did make it out alive. So did his 76-year-old mother, Melvina Whitby, who was rescued by firefighters.

"She's my grandmother. She'd tell you like it is. She wouldn't hold back. I hope she pulls through okay," said Baltz.

Relatives say Harvey worked as a mechanic for Henrico County. He also had a part time job. Benjamin Manley says he and Harvey were colleagues.

"I got to see him Thursday night when we walked out together. We were telling each other to have a good Christmas. Now, it's just you see them one day and the next there gone," said Manley.

The teen who died was a sophomore at Freeman High School.

"With the love and support of each other we'll get through this," said Baltz.

The family did have a working smoke detector in the home. The 15-year-old who survived suffered minor injuries. Her grandmother's injuries are considered serious.

The fire has been ruled accidental. The family dog also died in the fire.

Statement from Henrico County Public Schools:

"[Douglas] Freeman Principal Anne Poates, the Freeman staff and the Henrico County Public Schools community send our heartfelt condolences to the Harvey Family and friends.  We are saddened by the deaths of Jessica and her father and will give Jamie our full support when she returns to school.  We will also have additional school counselors and psychologists at Freeman when school reopens Monday, January 3, 2011, to help students and staff deal with their grief during this difficult time."

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