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posted: 11/7/2013 8:50 AM

Fire: Neighbors recall women who liked kids' Halloween costumes

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Working near an open window on the overnight shift at the Arlington Heights police station Wednesday morning, officer John Bzdusek and Sgt. Joe Pinnello smelled something burning.

They called the fire department. Firefighters followed the smell to a home five blocks away that was fully engulfed in flames.

Three adults, including a disabled elderly woman who owned the home, died in the early morning house fire on the 300 block of South Dunton Avenue, near downtown Arlington Heights.

The Cook County medical examiner's office identified the women early Thursday as Doris Miller, 93, Tetiana Krych, 62, and Svitana Kandelis, 40.

Miller and Krych live in the 300 block of Dunton, a medical examiner official said. Kandelis lives in the 1500 block of Tahoe Circle in Wheeling.

Autopsies on all three are expected to take place today.

Investigators are still trying to determine what started the fire, but Arlington Heights Fire Chief Glenn Ericksen said investigators do not believe there is anything suspicious about the blaze.

"It's very sad," he said. "We'll do the best job we can do determine why this happened."

Ericksen said the victims were all found on the first floor of the two-story Cape Cod home. When firefighters arrived at 3:20 a.m., parts of the burning second floor had already collapsed onto the first floor.

They removed an unconscious female victim through a downstairs bedroom window; she was pronounced dead at the scene, officials said.

When firefighters got inside, they found two other victims near the front door. They were also pronounced dead at the scene.

One of the victims was buried in rubble from the collapsed second floor, police said.

No smoke detectors were sounding when firefighters arrived and it is unknown whether any working detectors were present, police said.

It appears the fire started in a backroom, as the heaviest damage is to the back of the house, police Cmdr. Mike Hernandez said.

An arson investigator and a forensics expert were on the scene Wednesday along with the Illinois State Fire Marshal and local police and fire investigators. Hernandez said that is protocol for a deadly fire.

Authorities did not say how the three women were related.

Frank Soprano, who runs an Arlington Heights accounting and tax firm, said Wednesday afternoon the homeowner was one of the three victims.

Soprano, who said he has been handling the woman's finances, described her as an elderly lady who lived there for many years.

"It's a shame. She was just an old lady living her life," he said.

Soprano said the woman had a caretaker, but the only other family he knows of is a distant second cousin who does not live in the area.

Neighbor Barry Carlson said he sometimes saw the woman in her wheelchair, being taken for walks by an adult female caretaker who might have lived in the home.

"They were pleasant ... and we'd see them walking in the neighborhood and wave 'hi,'" Carlson said.

One neighbor remembered visiting the house just last week for Halloween.

"My wife and daughters were walking the neighborhood with the grandkids and a lady answered and invited them in," remembered Dave Weinrich. "I guess she wanted to show the older woman in a wheelchair their costumes."

Weinrich said the women seemed to enjoy the costumes, and he felt sad.

"It's really sad. It's so tragic," he said.

Neighbors said they awoke around 3 a.m. Wednesday to the sounds of voices, vehicles and commotion outside their windows.

Carlson first saw only police officers with flashlights but then noticed flames shooting out the windows of every level of the house, including the basement.

"The flames were huge," said neighbor Stefanie Okrzesik. "My husband is out of town, so I grabbed my dog and got out of there. The houses are so close together that I was afraid it would spread."

Police evacuated the adjacent homes as a precaution, but the fire did not spread.

Wednesday's fire conjured up memories of another fire just a few blocks away that killed three members of the Finnerty family in 2009. In that tragedy, the father started the blaze that killed him, his wife and a son.

Another neighbor, Connie Nurre, said she didn't know the residents of the home but woke up when fire officials started crowding her block early this morning.

"The rescue lights illuminated my bedroom and woke me up," Nurre said. "It's very tragic, just awful."

• Daily Herald staff writers Christopher Placek and Lee Filas contributed to this report.

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