NEWPORT NEWS, Va. - Newport News fire officials are continuing to investigate the death of Mia Evans, 36, following a fire in her townhome in the 1400 block of Waltham Lane.
A memorial paying tribute to Evans grows outside her home in the Huntington Pointe community. Neighbors left cards, stuffed animals and flowers for Evans during a vigil Sunday night.
“They grieved together; they consoled each other,” said Mike Miltner, Evans’ neighbor. “A couple neighbors who knew her well shared some stories and information about her.”
Evans was a Navy veteran who was working as a registered nurse in the area.
Neighbors said she had just finished or was about to finish her Master’s degree and had her whole life ahead of her.
“It was just a shock,” said Miltner. “You don’t expect something like that to happen.”
Just after 4 a.m. on March 22, the Newport News Fire Department responded to the Huntington Pointe community after they said a carbon monoxide alarm alerted 911.
That alarm was coming from Evans’ next-door neighbor. That’s when fire crews noticed the flames inside her home.
Fire officials later said after an investigation, they determined that the initial carbon monoxide response was directly related to the fire inside Evans' home. When firefighters originally arrived on scene, officials say there was no outward indication of fire coming from her home.
As part of the response to carbon monoxide incidents, firefighters employ devices designed to detect hazardous gases. When they entered the neighbor's apartment, their devices detected the presence of carbon monoxide in the air.
As they worked to find the source of the carbon monoxide, they checked neighboring homes and heard a smoke alarm sounding off from inside Evans' apartment.
Crews went inside the home, encountering heavy smoke. They extinguished a fire on the first floor and found Evans unresponsive.
Her dog also died during the fire.
Fire officials believe the fire, which originated in the kitchen, was an accident. They said there are no suspicious circumstances in this case.
Investigators believe a working smoke alarm alerted Evans to the fire, but she was unable to get out of the home.
Evans' windows are still stained from the heavy smoke.
“As soon as you came out here you could see smoke billowing; you could smell it,” said Miltner.
Miltner said his dog Kona woke him up that morning.
“Kona, she heard and saw something, and it spooked her,” he said. “She barked very loudly, louder than normal. We got up right away and you could see lights flashing.”
He came outside and took this cell phone video of the scene. Emergency crews lined the entire street.
“They were wrapped around the side of the street all the way down to the traffic circle,” Miltner said.
Miltner is still in disbelief. He and Evans are the same age.
“We stood out here for probably 45 mins that morning and just took it all in,” Miltner said. “She just had a lot of positives going for her. Of course, we’re grieving really hard.”
While the medical examiner will determine Evans' exact cause of death, fire officials told News 3 smoke inhalation is the primary cause of death in most deadly fires.
"The Newport News Fire Department is deeply saddened by the loss and expresses its deepest condolences to Ms. Evans’ family and friends," NNFD said in a statement.
The fire department is also working to help Evans' next of kin during this difficult time.
NNFD is encouraging people to have a working smoke detector in their homes, placed inside bedrooms, outside each sleeping area and on every level of the home. Everyone should also have a fire escape plan.
The fire department provides free smoke alarms by calling the smoke alarm hotline at 757-975-5454 or by visiting www.nnva.gov/fire.