A young entrepreneur with dreams of opening a business and an older St. Lucian described as a neighborhood matriarch were killed early Saturday, February 6, 2016 in separate house fires that broke out just blocks apart in the Bronx, officials said.
Fire marshals were still investigating the cause of the fires, both of which swept through private homes, though officials said there appeared to be no connection between them.
The deadly pre-dawn tragedies left four others hospitalized and neighbors and friends reeling with grief.
The earlier blaze started around 3:15 a.m. in the basement apartment that 64-year-old Claudia Bretney shared with her boyfriend on Beach Ave. near McGraw Ave. in Parkchester, officials and witnesses said.
The fire appears to have been sparked by a space heater, sources said.The apartment had no working smoke alarms, the FDNY said.
The fast-burning flames quickly spread throughout the house and Bretney was trapped by the smoke and fire.
The popular St. Lucia native moved to the area with her boyfriend about five years ago from Florida. She was known for her cookouts and church outings, friends told the Daily News.
“She was a great person,” said Augustus Evans, 49. “ I knew her since I was a little kid.”
Bretney and Evans both hailed from the tiny town of Monchy in the hills of St. Lucia.
It took firefighters almost an hour to bring the blaze under control, officials said. Bretney was taken to Jacobi Medical Center where she died.
I heard people screaming,” said Carmen Vurgos, 60, who lives next to the home. “I was scared the fire was going to go to my house.”
Bretney’s boyfriend and another woman were both in critical condition at Jacobi, FDNY Battalion Chief Vincent Mosca said. Two other men were hospitalized for smoke inhalation.
Hermia Marin, 46, said Bretney’s death struck a personal nerve because she had comforted her after a fire tore through her own apartment on Dec 27.
“She prayed with me, she helps me, cooked food for me,” Marin said. “
She was a beautiful person, a good heart, one of the best I’ve ever known.”