WEST SENECA, N.Y. (WIVB) — Bernadine Kowalski was still in mourning over the loss of her husband when flames broke out in her home.
The 68-year-old grandmother perished in the blaze that started in her home just after 6 a.m. Monday on Dirkson Avenue in West Seneca.
“She was the sweetest lady on the face of the earth. She was kind of quiet, she was private, but she was friendly,” said neighbor Nancy Dudkowski.
Brian Vogel, another neighbor, had a similar description. “You’re walking up and down the street, she’ll say ‘Hi’ to you, she was very friendly, very quiet person,” he said.
Just hours before the fire, Kowalski had posted on her Facebook page a poem about people we love passing away too soon ‘without reason’. Her husband, Arnold Kowalski, died just days ago. His funeral was on Friday.
Nancy Dudkowski went over to offer condolences to Kowalski Sunday evening, and Kowalski indicated she was without heat.
“She said to add insult to injury, she came home and she had no heat. So, I didn’t press her to see if she called a serviceman,” Dudkowski said.
The cause of the fire is still under investigation. Fire crews arrived to find the nearest fire hydrants buried in snow.
“The importance of cleaning out fire hydrants saves us time because we have to waste manpower to clear out a fire hydrant, and that’s what took us so long. The one fire hydrant at the top of the street here was blocked in by about six feet of snow,” said Seneca Hose Fire Chief Carl Radtke. “We actually had to dig it out before they could access it, which slowed us down and putting water to the fire and crews inside. We had the first and second floor in the front half of the building burn through. We had now structural collapses but they were compromised, so we kept crews away from there for safety.”
The fire spread to the home next door, causing enough damage that the family can no longer live there. The Red Cross is assisting them with alternative shelter.