WESTMINSTER, Md. - Update: The victim in this case has been identified as Paula Mae Carlisle, 59. Officials say she died from smoke inhalation and thermal burns. The cause of the fire is still under investigation.
Tucked behind a row of businesses on West Main Street in Westminster, a small fire in the wee hours of the morning Tuesday set firefighters in motion.
"Westminster Fire Department was notified of what they believed to be a possible trash fire on the back porch area located behind a shop that's run by the Westminster Mission," said Deputy State Fire Marshal Bruce Bouch.
Tragically, they discovered the body of a homeless woman who may have set the small fire in an attempt to stay warm.
"The fire was very small and was contained to that area involving some of her personal belongings and effects as well as herself and her clothing," said Bouch, "It happens a lot with the homeless that they get... especially in the winter months, they get a little bit closer to the heat source and that's always a potential."
While the Westminster Rescue Mission operates a thrift store inside the building, it does not house or provide services to the homeless at the site.
As word of the death spread, those most familiar with the chronic homeless began guessing among themselves at who the victim was---mindful of the dangers that come with trying to survive while exposed to the elements with no place to call home.
We spoke with one man who refused to identify himself by name.
"It's an ongoing thing out here. There's a lot of homeless up here. You'd be surprised... a lot of homeless. I used to be one of them, but I'm not anymore," said the man while staring at the burned steps, "A lot of people have tents. Some have tents. Some don't. So far we've been fortunate that it hadn't been that bad of a winter."
The State Medical Examiner's Office will perform an autopsy to try to determine the victim's identity and to confirm the cause of death.