Smoking on home oxygen likely cause of apartment fire that killed Liberty woman battling cancer

LIBERTY, Mo. -- Fire officials say smoking while on home oxygen likely triggered a fire that took a Liberty woman's life Tuesday morning.

The fatal fire broke out just before 6 a.m. Tuesday at a home in the 500 block of Gallatin Street in Liberty. Nine people were inside the apartment building at the time.

Rickie Wholf and his pregnant wife awoke to the sound of smoke detectors.

“It was pretty thick and scary," Wholf said of the smoke-filled stairways they scurried down.

Firefighters were able to get everyone else out but found a woman identified by family as Wendy Norman, 49, dead inside the apartment where the fire started.

Wendy Norman

“She was a lovely lady," Wholf said. "She loved her cats, didn’t cause any problems, kept to herself. She was just a great person."

Norman was battling ocular melanoma, a rare form of cancer. She was on home oxygen. Missouri's Division of Fire Safety said Norman smoking while on home oxygen likely sparked the fire in her apartment.

Her final Facebook post this week was a message saying she supported everyone who was fighting the fight to live.

Family said paramedics had just been to the apartment Monday as Norman dealt with health issues.

She remained at the apartment however. A neighbor said he heard Norman’s TV on when he left shortly before the fire started. A wooden cross with Jesus inscribed on it sat in the charred recliner after the fire.

Norman survived a September 2015 apartment fire. She posted how thankful she was to the Claycomo firefighters who gave her cats oxygen.

Family said both her cats survived Tuesday's fire and are now at a veterinary clinic. Neighbors were allowed to return to their apartments shortly after the fire was extinguished.