COLUMBIA — As John Baker surveyed the fire damage in his daughter’s home on Wednesday morning, one item stood out: A wooden chest in the basement that held a Purple Heart and the funeral flag of a fallen soldier.
The heirlooms were reminders of the life and military service of Steven Fitzmorris, a specialist in the U.S. Army who died in Baghdad in August 2008. The house in northeast Columbia belonged to the soldier’s wife, Samantha Baker Fitzmorris.
Baker said his daughter purchased the two-story house at 2107 Dickinson Court with money she received from the government after her husband’s death.
Samantha Baker Fitzmorris, 24, was visiting friends in Colorado when the fire broke out about 4 a.m. Wednesday. Her children, Joshua, 5, and Mykenzee, 3, were visiting their father’s family in Alabama.
Baker, who was watching the house for his daughter, said he spent Tuesday evening at the home and left at 7 p.m., making sure all the doors were locked and that Fancy, the family pit bull, was taken care of.
The fire killed Fancy, who was found in the garage. Soot-covered stockings hung over the mantel, and Christmas presents were strewn across the living room. Damage was estimated at $150,000.
City fire investigators said evidence at the scene indicated the home had been burglarized.
In a news release issued late Wednesday, Columbia police said they contacted Samantha Baker Fitzmorris and determined that a 52-inch flat screen television was missing.
“Further investigation will be done to confirm that this incident may have been a burglary,” the release stated.
The fire was spotted by a Columbia police officer on patrol, and firefighters found flames coming from the basement when they arrived. Capt. Eric Hartman of the Columbia Fire Department said the basement area suffered the most damage.