Woman Pleads Guilty In Canby Park Rowhome Blaze That Killed Three Firefighters

The woman accused of causing the death of three Wilmington firefighters has pleaded guilty.

Beatriz Fana-Ruiz, 30,  has pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, first-degree arson, and first-degree assault in connection with the  September 24, 2016, Canby Park rowhome blaze that took the lives of Lt. Christopher Leach, senior firefighters Jerry Fickes, and Ardythe “Ardy” Hope.

Fana-Ruiz, who lived in the rowhome and confessed to setting the blaze while she was on Xanax and alcohol, was originally charged with two counts of first-degree murder, first-degree arson, four counts of second-degree assault and seven counts of reckless endangerment.

Wilmington Fire Department Brad Speakman, badly injured in the fire, returned to service after almost a year of recovery. He later retired.

Lt. John Cawthray and Senior firefighter Terry Tate also suffered injuries in the blaze.

She faces a minimum of 15 years in prison when she appears for sentencing in December.

Official Report

On September 24, 2016, a 41-year-old lieutenant and a 51-year-old senior firefighter died due to a floor collapse in a row house at a structure fire. Two other firefighters were critically injured. One of the injured firefighters, a 48-year-old female died on December 1, 2016, due to injuries sustained from the collapse and exposure to fire in the basement. Another firefighter spent 40 days in a metropolitan hospital before being released. Two other firefighters received burns during fire ground operations and one firefighter sustained an ankle injury. All three were treated and released from the hospital on the same day.

At 0256 hours, Engine 1, Engine 5, Squad 4, Ladder 2, Battalion 2, and Battalion 1 were dispatched to a report of a residential structure fire with persons trapped. Ladder 2 arrived on-scene at 0301 hours and reported heavy fire showing from the rear of the structure. The Ladder 2 Officer requested a 4th engine be dispatched.

Engine 1 and Engine 5 arrived and both laid supply lines from different directions. Battalion 2 arrived on-scene and assumed Command. Crews from Engine 1, Engine 5, and Ladder 2 went to the front door and entered the 1st floor at approximately 0307 hours.

At approximately 0309 hours, the Ladder 2 Officer, a firefighter from Engine 1, and a firefighter from Engine 5 fell into the basement. At 0310 hours, a Mayday was transmitted for a floor collapse and firefighters in the basement. Firefighters were able to get the firefighter from Engine 1 (Engine 1B) out of the basement at 0318 hours. Crews were able to get the firefighter from Engine 5 (Engine 5B) to the base of an attic ladder placed in the basement.

Crews in the basement were also searching for the Ladder 2 Officer, plus firefighters were exiting and entering the basement. The injured firefighter from Engine 5 moved away from the attic ladder and crews were unable to locate her. Two firefighters from Squad 4 (Squad 4C and Squad 4D entered the basement from Side Charlie and found the lieutenant from Ladder 2 near the Side Alpha/Side Delta corner.

The two firefighters from Squad 4 pulled the Ladder 2 Officer toward the doorway on Side Charlie. They got 4 – 6 feet from the doorway when a second collapse of the 1st floor occurred at approximately 0320 hours.

One firefighter from Squad 4 (Squad 4C) and the lieutenant from Ladder 2 were covered by debris. Squad 4D was pushed toward the doorway and pulled out by a firefighter from Engine 5 (Engine 5C). Squad 4C was removed from the structure at 0329 hours.

He was transported to a trauma center and pronounced deceased. The firefighter from Engine 5 (Engine 5B) was located and removed from the structure at 0348 hours and transported by air ambulance to a trauma center and then a medical burn center. At 0430 hours, the Ladder 2 Officer was located in the debris pile and pronounced deceased by a paramedic. He was removed from the structure and transported to a trauma center. The fire was declared under control at 0550 hours.

This is a developing story.


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