House Fire Kills Man in Newport

Times Staff Writer

An elderly Newport Beach man died Friday in a fire that swept through his home overlooking Lido Marina Village.

William Womble, 78, was killed in the 2:20 a.m. blaze in the 2900 block of Cliff Drive, said Fire Capt. Ray Pendleton. It took firefighters half an hour to control the blaze, which probably was started by a cigarette or cigar, Pendleton said.

The fire caused an estimated $325,000 damage to the wood frame house and its contents, Pendleton said. It also caused minor damage to a house next door.

Neighbors said Womble spent most of his time alone and apparently lived off his investments.


“He was a very sweet man,” said Corinne Spence, who lived across the street from Womble for 17 years. On Halloween, she said, “kids loved trick-or-treating there because he always gave big Hershey bars.” He also allowed neighborhood children to play handball on his garage door, neighbors said.

“He was very kind and gentle,” said Rich Demmer, 22, a neighbor who remembers eagerly visiting Womble every Halloween.

Spence said Womble’s family built the house before World War II. During the war, she said, the Wombles kept a telescope in the house to watch for enemy submarines.

Neighbors also said Womble’s house was cluttered because he collected newspapers, magazines and antiques.

“The whole house was a fire hazard,” Demmer said.

Another neighbor, Betty Glass, 86, said Womble “saved everything from 1900.”

“I always wanted to go there and look things over because he had a lot of antiques,” said Glass, whose house suffered minor damage in the fire.

On Friday, neighbors began leaving flowers in front of Womble’s home. They plan to hold a memorial service at 3:30 p.m. Sunday at Cliff Drive Park, 2900 Cliff Drive in Newport Heights.

The county coroner’s office Friday evening was still looking for Womble’s next of kin.