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House fires claim two lives in South Buffalo, West Seneca

House fires claimed two lives within three hours Monday morning in South Buffalo and West Seneca.

Neighbors noticed both fires and called 911.

Buffalo firefighters responding to a blaze shortly after 9 a.m. at 146 Weyand Ave. found the body of a 73-year-old man in the front of the first floor of the 1½-story wood frame house. Authorities have not yet released his name.

Earlier in the day, a fire claimed the life of Bernadine J. “Deena” Kowalski, 68, who lived in a two-story frame house at 67 Dirkson Ave. in the town.

“I just spoke to her at 5 o’clock last night,” said Nancy A. Dudkowski, who lives next to the burned home. “She buried her husband on Friday.”

Dudkowski saw the fire after getting into her car to go to work at about 6:30 a.m. and was one of several in the neighborhood who called for help. Neighbors knew that the victim was in the house because her car was parked in the driveway.

“The whole front of the house blew out,” she said. “I was hysterical. I was crying on the phone. I will never forget this. It was god-awful.”

In Buffalo, Donald W. Napora, who has lived at 156 Weyand since 1960, was just getting home at about 9 a.m. from a trip to the supermarket.

“I saw the smoke coming out of the house, and I told my wife,” he said. “She called the Fire Department.”

Napora said he saw smoke, but no flames. Firefighters confined the fire to the first floor, and officials later estimated that the blaze left $100,000 in damage, including $80,000 to the structure. Authorities also said that two dogs died in the fire. A hole apparently was chopped in the roof, but there was little visible damage to the front exterior of the home.

In West Seneca, the front of the house on Dirkson was heavily damaged, as the fire spread to an adjacent house whose roof was about a foot from the burning structure. The Red Cross was helping the occupant of that house with food and temporary housing. The fire appeared to have started in the front of the structure.

Susan Sikorski, who lives across the street, was one of those who called the Fire Department.

“My daughter was waiting for the school bus,” she recalled. “She said, ‘Mom, that house is on fire.’ I grabbed the phone and called 911. I’m sure a lot of people called.”

Sikorski saw flames coming out of the first floor of the house, but the fire initially seemed confined to a small area. “Then it seemed like in 10 minutes the whole porch was engulfed in flames,” she said.

The house was fully involved when firefighters arrived.

“Fire was coming 15 to 20 feet out the front and going probably 30, 40 feet up in the air,” Seneca Hose Company Fire Chief Carl A. Radtke said.

He said that firefighters had to dig out hydrants when they first arrived and that it took several hours to get the blaze under control.

“We had a lot of crawl spaces and voids with hot spots that kept flaring up on us,” Radtke said.

The victim’s dog, Harley, survived and was found by firefighters in the back section of the house. He was given to Kowalski’s family. Neighbors said they had not seen the woman’s cat, Chance, after the fire.

Kowalski’s husband died Wednesday, and Dudkowski spoke with the widow Sunday evening when she was shoveling snow.

“I said, ‘Maybe once the weather gets a little bit better, we just can go out and have a cup of coffee,’ and she said, ‘Yeah, I’d like that,’ ” Dudkowski said. “These houses are not only physically close; we all kind of keep an eye on each other around here. Everybody knows everybody else.”

The two deaths came two days after a Cheektowaga man died in a fire at his home on Pine Circle on Saturday morning.