A raging house fire left an elderly couple dead in East Patchogue Thursday afternoon, authorities said, after the intense heat thwarted firefighters and neighbors who tried to rush inside and save them.
Alfred Romeo, 88, and Angeline Romeo, 85, a married couple who lived together in the home for more than 50 years, were identified as the victims, police said. Authorities said they found them dead on the first floor.
Angeline Romeo had been confined to a wheelchair after she suffered a stroke two years ago and her husband took care of her, their daughter and neighbors said.
“He was a very good caregiver to my mother,” said their daughter, Donna Marie Charmack, of Jessup, Pennsylvania, adding that her parents would have been married for 65 years this October. “My mother was a wonderful mother.”
“They were the best parents you could ever have,” she said. “I can’t believe I have to bury the both of them.”
The blaze at the wood-frame, two-story house on Swezey Street broke out at 12:36 p.m. and roared for nearly two hours — fueled in part by whipping winds — before firefighters finally brought it under control.
Authorities said the couple’s attempts to escape the burning home may have been hampered by their age.“It was just too hot” to go inside the home, neighbor Moses Hernandez said. “Even the firefighters that were going up were second-guessing.”
Several witnesses said they heard the couple screaming, but attempts to reach them were stymied by flames and searing heat. Neighbor Chloe Wozniak said she could hear Alfred Romeo banging on a first-floor window as he tried to escape.
“Passers-by were banging on the door,” Wozniak said, but no one could get inside.
Next-door neighbor Theresa Martin said she first learned of the fire after her husband went outside to retrieve a package, saw the smoke coming from the house, and called 911.
Martin, who lived next to the couple for 23 years, said Angeline’s husband spent most of his time caring for her.
“They were lovely people,” Martin said. “It’s a sad way for really lovely people to come to an end.”
The gutted house was “very old,” said Cathy Beer, of the Hagerman Fire Department. Strong winds gusting in the area only made the fire worse, officials said.
First responders didn’t get inside until after the blaze was extinguished, police said.
“The house just went up,” Beer said. “It was blazing. The smoke was so thick you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face.”
Authorities said the fire did not appear to be suspicious or criminal in nature. The cause remains under investigation.
Firefighters from several municipalities, including Patchogue, North Patchogue, Bayport, Blue Point, Hagerman and Medford helped battle the inferno.
“You saw all the flames coming out and all these popping noises,” said neighbor Katie Rubio, 41. “The fact that they couldn’t come out alive is very, very sad. My prayers do go out to the family.”
Albert Romeo was a lifelong resident of Patchogue, and retired from Eastern Suffolk BOCES, according to Paul Pontieri, mayor of the Village of Patchogue. His daughter said he was a World War II veteran.
Robert J. Charmack, the couple’s son-in-law, said: “They were the best people I ever knew.”
About 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Susan Grucci, whose husband Anthony is a nephew of the Romeos, wept as she left a bouquet of flowers outside the burned house.
“He never left her, even when she became sick and was in a wheelchair,” Grucci said. “He probably stayed in there with her, because he couldn’t get her out.”