OLEAN — A mother and her daughter died in a fire early Sunday morning on the 300 block of South Second Street.
At approximately 2:35 a.m., a crew of eight Olean Fire Department firefighters were dispatched to 309 S. Second St. There, the first responders found the two-story house fully engulfed in flames. A second crew of eight city firefighters arrived on-scene shortly after.
Authorities report five of the house’s occupants were inside the home when the blaze started. While three of the occupants escaped the burning house with minor injuries, two were unable to make it out alive. Olean Fire Department Chief Robert Bell identified the deceased as Kristie Bell, a home health care worker, and her 16-year-old daughter, Monica Greene, an Olean High School student.
The Olean Police Department reports those injured in the blaze were taken to Olean General Hospital for treatment.
City firefighters attempted to enter the house through its back section to rescue Ms. Bell and her daughter.
“We made it in about 12 feet, but had to order everyone out because the roof over the front of the building collapsed,” said Capt. Steven Wolfe of the city’s fire department.
Ricky Perry, who lives directly across the street at 308 S. Second St., said he was one of the first neighbors outside after the fire started.
“It was crazy,” Mr. Perry told the Times Herald Sunday afternoon. “The flames were shooting out of the windows and were going higher than the smoke. If I had fire gear, I would have gone in there to try to save them. I don’t think there was much anyone could do.”
“I was woken up at 2:30 a.m. because people were pounding on my door, and I could see the whole thing,” said John Lunn, a South Second Street resident. “That whole house was completely on fire.”
Mr. Perry and Mr. Lunn, as well as several other neighbors, said that as the house burned, sections of it exploded.
“You could hear a lot of popping whenever that would happen,” Mr. Perry said. “There was one big explosion, too,” he added, believing it was caused by a natural gas utility line catching fire.
Firefighters battled the blaze for several hours and had it under control around 8 a.m. Capt. Wolfe said no firefighters were injured while extinguishing the blaze.
The bodies of the deceased were taken to Erie County Medical Center in Buffalo for an autopsy, which is scheduled to be conducted Monday.
“All fatalities in all our fires are very tragic, and in my career, I remember all of them,” Chief Bell said. “But this one really hits home because they were my niece and great-niece.”
“The loss of life is always unfortunate,” Capt. Wolfe echoed. “But at this time of year, the loss of life is that much more difficult for the friends and family of the people who died.”
The fire caused damage to neighboring homes located at 307 S. Second St., which was unoccupied, and 311 S. Second St. Those living at 311 S. Second St. escaped their home with no injuries.
Capt. Wolfe said the fire caused significant interior damage to 311 S. Second St. He was unable to comment on the exact extent of damage.
Firefighters from the Allegany, Weston Mills, Portville and town of Olean volunteer fire departments, as well as officers from the city’s police department, were also on-scene to provide support to the city’s fire department.
In addition to several city fire trucks and an ambulance, fire engines from the Allegany and Weston Mills fire departments were sent to the fire. The Portville Volunteer Fire Department dispatched an aerial truck to the fire as well.
Firefighters from Portville and Allegany took up posts at the Olean Fire Department's central fire station on North Union Street. Crews from Weston Mills were on standby at the city fire department’s station on South First Street.
The local branch of the Salvation Army also sent out an emergency response vehicle to assist the fire’s victims and provide food and hot beverages to those on scene.
Olean Fire Department crews were on-scene until around 11:30 a.m., working to demolish the standing sections of the still-smoldering structure and put out hotspots. Authorities deemed 309 S. Second St. a total loss and ordered its immediate demolition. City property records list Douglas and Karen Mosher as the owners of the 83-year-old house.
The cause of the fire has yet to be determined, Capt. Wolfe said. He declined to comment further as the blaze is under investigation. A full report on the fire is expected to be released in the coming days.
Upon hearing news of the fatal fire and that an Olean High School student had perished in it, Dr. Colleen Taggerty, Olean City School District’s superintendent, went to the scene.
“What can you say ... there’s nothing worse than losing a child,” Dr. Taggerty told the Times Herald. “It’s tragic to lose a daughter or granddaughter. It’s tragic to lose a student. I’m at a loss for words. My heart goes out to the family.”
The superintendent said the school district will provide grief services to students and faculty who knew Miss Greene and her mother.
The Wilder family, who live at the corner of South Second Street and West Greene Street, also witnessed the fire. They described the deceased as “wonderful people.”
“She was great ... she was a free spirit and was friends with everybody,” said Lacy Wilder, referring to Monica, her close friend. “She always came over and told me she always had my back no matter what.”
“She was just at our house the other day,” added Linda Wilder, Lacy’s mother. “She was just a great kid. Her mom was pretty quiet and worked a lot. They were good people. We just hope they were asleep when this happened.”
By mid afternoon Sunday, the Wilders and other South Second Street residents had erected a small memorial near the scene of the fire. The memorial contained several stuffed animals and dolls, as well as a sign which read, “Fly High Angels ... Monica and Kristie ... From the Wilder Family.”
Sunday’s fire is the second fatal blaze on South Second Street in recent history.
On Dec. 7, 2008, two young children died in a fire Jamar, 1, and Aubriana, 3, Gayton died in a first-floor bedroom of the home at 119 S. Second St. when fire broke out sometime before 11:19 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 7, 2008.
(Contact reporter Christopher Michel at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter, OTHChris.)