Debra Lee dies in Leisure World fire in Silver Spring

SILVER SPRING, Md. (WJLA) - Investigators say 63-year-old Debra Lee was killed Wednesday when a fire started on the balcony of her ninth-floor apartment.

The fire was in an upper-level residence at Leisure World in the 15000 block of Interlachen Drive in Silver Spring.

Fire crews were dispatched to the fire at about 12:20 p.m. and the blaze was put out about 15 minutes later.

The general manager of Leisure World says between 350 and 400 people live in the building and many have physical disabilities, which made evacuating the building difficult.

Fire investigators say Lee kept oxygen tanks and a nebulizer in her unit because of a longstanding lung illness. An autopsy found Lee died prior to the fire. Investigators, however, never determined what sparked the blaze in her apartment.

Fifth-floor resident Mary Van Harn grabbed her cat, Amanda, and escaped down a stairwell.

"It took a lot of teamwork to get down the stairwell, but we made it down, I'm happy to be alive,” she said.

Seventy-five firefighters helped evacuate nearly 300 residents, some carrying the disabled in wheelchairs to safety.

Firefighters say the building is fully equipped with fire sprinklers, which kept flames from spreading.