The remains of a home at 2032 North Road in South Royalton, which was destroyed in a fire on Saturday night. (Herald / Seth Butler)

Woman Killed in Royalton Fire


Submitted 7 months ago
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Second Family Death in Past Year

A 60-year-old Royalton woman died late Saturday night in a fire that raged through the single-story North Road home she shared with her husband.

The fire was reported at 11:33 p.m. on April 14; after the fire had somewhat subsided, a firefighter found the body of Roberta F. Staples in her bedroom.

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In an update on the fire investigation issued yesterday (Wednesday) afternoon, Det. Sgt. Todd Ambroz said investigators determined that the fire started in the room where Roberta Staples slept—a 12-by-16-foot addition to the couple’s 1976 mobile home.

“The cause of the fire is undetermined, however, it is believed that accidental dropping of hot cigarette ashes or improper disposal of smoking materials contributed to the cause of the fire,” Det. Sgt. Ambroz wrote.

The fact that Staples was using an oxygen tank, around the clock may have contributed to the fast spread of the fire.

A preliminary autopsy exam indicates that she died due to smoke inhalation, Ambroz said.

In their initial release on the fire, police said Tim Staples, 58, fled the home Saturday as fire engulfed it, at around 11:30 p.m., after hearing his wife yelling for him to get out of the house.

He ran to a neighbor’s home in the dark, pounded at the door, and asked the resident to call 911. Staples returned to the house “but was unable to get back in due to the extreme heat and smoke,” police said.

State police from the Royalton barracks and the South Royalton Fire Department initially responded to the scene to find that the house was already beginning to collapse, police reported.

Ambroz wrote in his initial report that ice- and snow-covered roads slowed firefighters’ ability to access the scene. Firefighters from Randolph and Barnard Fire Departments were called out for mutual.

South Royalton Fire Chief Paul Brock requested fire investigators from the Department of Public Safety unit to investigate the origin and cause of the fire.

Investigators, along with Det. Tpr. Christopher Blais of the Royalton barracks, arrived on scene at 12:30 a.m. on April 15—just one hour after the fire was first reported. Roberta Staples’ body was removed and transported to the office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Burlington.

Everybody’s Mom

Yesterday, Roberta Staples’ daughter, Linda Arbuckle of South Royalton, said her mother had died “six years to the day that my dad died, of a heart attack.” His name was James Arbuckle.

It’s been a tough year for the family—Linda’s brother, James “J.R.” Arbuckle, died in a car crash on August 4, 2017.

Linda Arbuckle said her stepfather, Tim Staples, is staying with her, for now. He was unable to enter her mom’s bedroom from an outside door because it was deadbolted, she said. Tim Staples had suffered some burns but is doing better, she said. Their house was insured.

Who was Roberta Staples?

“My mom was a workaholic,” said Arbuckle.

Staples had worked at Vermont Technical College in maintenance and as an events coordinator, for years.

“She loved her family and would help anybody—she’d open her door to anyone, anytime,” Arbuckle continued.

A number of her friends who have been getting in touch to express condolences, she said, have commented, “Not only did you lose your mother, but we lost our second mom.”

Arbuckle reported one bright memory from Saturday: that morning, Roberta Staples had a visit from her new great-grandson— and his name is James.

Her mom had to step down from her position at VTC in the fall due to poor health, Arbuckle said, and in recent months had to use an oxygen tank to help her breathe. She was still mobile, but could only get around slowly, she said.

An obituary for Roberta Staples will be in next week’s Herald. Linda Arbuckle said a small gathering for the family will be held in the near future, with plans already taking shape for a “summer party at our house—a celebration of life.”

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