A house fire in Whitemarsh Township's Cedar Heights neighborhood claimed the life of 71-year-old Barbara Conicello late Saturday afternoon. Her husband, 70-year-old James Conicello, also received burn injuries and was transported to Bryn Mawr Hospital for treatment, officials of the Whitemarsh Police Department said.
Family and neighbors say the two had ten children together, nine of whom are living, and had recently celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. Many of their children, all of whom are of adult age, gathered across the street as emergency personnel worked to extinguish the flames inside the home, located at 367 Roberts Avenue.
At one point, the sons and daughters emotionally embraced after a Whitemarsh Police officer approached and spoke with them. Minutes later, fire personnel erected a tarp as a makeshift barrier, presumably as the body was removed from the home.
A pair of son-in-laws at the scene described the woman as relaxed and kindhearted.
"A very, very loving person," said one son-in-law. "A great mom, a great grandmom. She was an all around good person."
"She was just a sweetheart," the other said.
The fire was first reported at 3:30 p.m. as multiple area fire companies responded. One neighbor told Patch that he was the first to call 9-1-1, rushing inside to do so after speaking with the husband, who was able to escape from the house. The neighbor said that the husband was refusing to go to the hospital before learning the condition of his wife, although it is unclear at what point he was actually transported from the scene.
Lincoln Fire Company chief Jay Davis said the fire was already "extensive" by the time responders arrived at the scene. Firefighters tried to access the house on both floors from multiple directions, but were unable to locate a safe point of entry. On at least two occasions after the flames appeared to be out, small fires broke out just below the roof.
Firefighters also used a truck ladder to access the roof and appeared to be using a saw to cut into the structure. A firefighter was attended to by medical personnel, after it appeared he was suffering from exhaustion or smoke inhalation.
The fire gutted both floors of the home, created heavy smoke conditions, and rendered it completely uninhabitable, Davis said. Conicello's body was located in a ground floor bedroom after firefighters were able to beat back the flames, police said.
The Whitemarsh Fire Marshal's Office and Police Department, along with the Montgomery County Detective Bureau, Pennsylvania State Police Fire Marshal, and Montgomery County Coroner's Office are conducting a joint investigation of the incident. As of early Saturday evening, a cause of the fire had not yet been determined.
Personnel from the Lincoln, Plymouth, Conshohocken, Barren Hill, Spring Mill, Wissahickon, and Washington fire companies, along with Narberth and Whitemarsh Amublance, responded to the incident.
Check back with Patch for updates.