WOODS CROSS, Utah — A Christmastime tragedy struck an elderly Utah couple who died after being overcome by smoke from a fire sparked by malfunctioning Christmas tree lights, officials said.
Investigators say 77-year-old Gary and 74-year-old Melba Meacham tried to put out the blaze which had engulfed their artificial tree, with a fire extinguisher, but were overcome by the heavy, toxic smoke.
“We’re talking a hot, thick black smoke that was to the floor,” South Davis Metro Fire spokesman Jeff Bassett told the Deseret News. “Extremely difficult, zero visibility.”
Neighbors tried to get into the home where the Meachams had lived for 49 years, but were driven back by the heat and smoke. Fire crews found the couple unconscious inside. They were rushed to a local hospital but could not be saved.
Bassett said the couple had told neighbors that they had been having trouble with the lights, which came pre-wrapped around their artificial tree.
Investigators believe that chemicals from the burning artificial tree likely overwhelmed the couple, while Christmas presents and logs for their fireplace stacked near the tree added fuel to the fire.
Neighbors described the couple as deeply attached to each other and friendly with neighbors, often giving gifts around Christmas. Gary was a retired upholsterer, while Melba had worked odd jobs over the years.
“It’s terrible it’s Christmastime,” neighbor Carl Bonner told the Salt Lake City Tribune. “But they went together. Maybe the Lord was right there with them. It puts a hole in your heart. We’re going to miss them.”