Preliminary Evidence Suggests There Were No Working Smoke Detectors Inside

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — A Rockland County mother and daughter died Thursday morning following an intense blaze that kept would-be rescuers at bay.

The blaze broke out around 12:30 a.m. in New City.

The house on Stratford Place is now a charred shell — blackened on all sides, open to the sky, riddled by flames so hot the siding melted from a home 25 yards away.

Killed in the blaze were 79-year-old Barbara Calise and her disabled 54 year-old daughter Yvonne.

The fire is believed to have started in the basement and then spread. By the time firefighters arrived, heavy smoke and flames were pouring out of the home.

Rockland County Deputy Fire Coordinator George Drescher said the fire was so far advanced that firefighters “could only do what they could do.”

About 100 firefighters responded to the scene.

“You could just see the flames shooting through the roof.  It was just unbelievable,” said neighbor Eileen McCaffrey.

Two people died in this deadly fire in Rockland County on Feb. 14, 2013. (credit: CBS 2)

Two people died in this deadly fire in Rockland County on Feb. 14, 2013. (credit: CBS 2)

Fire officials confirmed to CBS 2’s Lou Young that the first 911 call came from inside the house.

It was Barbara Calise desperately calling for help. She didn’t take the opportunity to run away.  When fire crews finally knocked down the flames, they could see her body on the ground floor — next to her daughter.

“It looks like she went to get her daughter out and probably succumbed to smoke before the fire,” said assistant safety inspector  Harold Straut. “From what we can see right now, possibility that there were no working smoke detectors in the house.”

It was an apparent fatal oversight for a woman who still worked as a home health care aide and took care of the daughter who has been handicapped since birth.  Those who knew her had nothing but admiration for her selfless final act.

“Yeah I consider her a hero,” said neighbor Steve Froid. “It puts the little things in life in perspective.”

As for the cause of the fires, inspectors are concentrating on the basement.  They removed some electrical equipment for examination. The deaths, they insisted, could have been totally prevented by the presence of a smoke detector.

Barbara Calise is survived by two adult sons and four grandchildren.

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