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Residential fire claims the life of longtime Valley Center resident


November 19, 2013
Circumstances changed quickly in the last week of Penny Holland's life.

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Richard Holland holds an undated picture of his deceased wife Penny who passed away early in the morning on Nov. 19. Photo by Michael Crane / Valley Roadrunner
She celebrated her 61st birthday Nov. 11 by undergoing a long-desired cosmetic surgery, but she would not have much time to enjoy her new-found look. In the past week, her health had noticeably declined; she was having difficulty speaking in an intelligible manner. Tragedy finally struck while she combed her hair Monday morning at about 9:30 a.m. in preparation for a scheduled doctor's appointment.

Her husband, Richard, was in another room tending to a disabled son when he suddenly heard her shouting his name.

When he entered Penny's bedroom, he saw his wife of 32 years sitting on her bed engulfed in flames. He quickly grabbed their dogs' water bowls and attempted to douse the flames. Then he tried smothering them with a blanket which subsequently caught fire. The 77 year-old retiree ran out of the house and dragged a garden hose upstairs. He extinguished the fire and called 911.

Approximately 45 minutes later she was transported to UC San Diego Medical Center with third-degree burns covering 95 percent of her body. A doctor said that her arm would have to be amputated even in the best case scenario, according to Cheryl Holland, Penny's step-daughter.

"(The doctor) basically said everything except that she wasn't going to survive," Cheryl said.

The tactful words of the doctor could not prevent family members from having to make a difficult decision, Cheryl said. They decided against attempts to resuscitate Penny who went into cardiac arrest early the next morning at 12:54 a.m., according to the San Diego County Medical Examiner's Office.

The cause of death was attributed to third-degree burns and respiratory injuries, a report from the office states.

An investigation into what started the fire is still underway, according to the county sheriff's department. However, officials believe a cigarette or match — Penny was a regular smoker — sparked the fire.

"It's just a horrific horrific tragedy because she was looking forward to life," said Cheryl of her stepmother who received a tummy-tuck and work on her eyelids last week as a birthday gift from Richard.

Cheryl said her father was in a state of shock yesterday, haunted by his inability to save his wife even though he burned his hands while trying. He reminisced about his late wife Tuesday and the long marriage they had enjoyed, Cheryl said.

"'She was a good wife, a kind person.' Those are the two things I remembered him say about her," she said.

Richard and Penny moved to Valley Center in 1986 following his retirement from what was then called Pacific Telephone. They built a house together at 14150 Kelowna Lane which they shared with Eric Wolfgang, her son from a previous marriage. Her career as a nurse ended after she became disabled about 10 years ago, according to Cheryl.

In addition to Cheryl and Richard Holland, Penny is survived by her step-son Brent Holland and sons Jeremy and Eric Wolfgang, grand-daughter Autumn Wolfgang, among other relations.

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    my prayers are for your family
    November 21, 2013 | 09:01 AM

    Simply, I am so very sorry to read about this tragedy. My prayers are for your entire family.

    Eric Tourbin
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