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Elderly couple dies in fire at McCandless home

| Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2001, 12:00 p.m.

When the neighbor of an elderly McCandless couple called 911 on Monday, he thought he was reporting a small fire, not one that had killed two people.

Officials today will continue investigating what started the smoldering fire that killed Morris Dickson "Dick" Graner and Betty Jane Graner, both 79. The couple's bodies were found about 12:30 p.m. yesterday in the second-floor bedroom of their tidy, yellow-brick home in the 100 block of West Ingomar Drive.

So far, the fire seems to have started accidently in the kitchen, said Allegheny County Assistant Fire Marshal Tom Hitchings.

Investigators said they believe the fire started Sunday night or Monday morning, but it had extinguished itself before firefighters were called.

Don Baxter, the Graners' next-door neighbor, said the home showed no obvious signs of a fire from the outside.

"I had called 911, but I didn't think it was an emergency," he said. "I saw the windows were blackened, and I assumed that there was a fire, but it had to be just a small one. I called the paramedics to make sure they (the Graners) were OK. I was absolutely surprised when they brought out the bodies."

Baxter and a Meals on Wheels volunteer both called 911 after noticing the home's smoke-stained windows. The volunteer was delivering food to the Graners and became suspicious when no one answered the door, Hitchings said.

McCandless fire Marshal Dan Stack said the house had little or no damage on the outside, but a thick coat of soot draped the interior.

Stack said the home was tightly sealed, which kept the fire at a smolder until it eventually snuffed itself out.

"When I looked inside the house, everything was covered in black soot, and the wallpaper had curled up like dead leaves," Baxter said.

The Graners had lived in the home since 1968 and had raised their three sons and one daughter there, Baxter said.

David Graner of McCandless, one of the couple's sons, grieved over the unexpected loss of his parents yesterday.

"I just know I will miss them very much," he said.

Kim Graner of McCandless said she will remember her husband's parents as always doting on their children and grandchildren. Kim is the wife of another son, James.

"They were very generous, very friendly, always welcoming," she said.

The Graners enjoyed swimming and had kept a pool at their home, Kim Graner said. She said the couple especially loved the beach and, for several years, took their family to Ocean City, Md.

"Now, my husband and I take our children there. They started the family tradition," Kim Graner said.

Morris Graner was a retired salesman. Betty Jane Graner stayed home to raise their children, all of whom graduated from North Allegheny High School.

The couple belonged to St. John Lutheran Church of Highland in McCandless.

The Allegheny County Coroner's Office will complete autopsies today. No funeral information was available Monday night.

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