An 81-year-old Deer Park woman died in a suspected electrical fire that ripped through her Pine Street home Sunday morning, police said.
Eleanor Di Dea was found dead on the first floor of the two-story, wood-and-brick structure, according to police.
"I was ready to rush in and go get her myself," José Talavera said as he choked back tears, adding that he had grown up next door to Di Dea. "She was like my grandmother . . . since I was a little boy, I would do whatever I could for her."
According to Suffolk County police, First Precinct officers on routine patrol saw smoke coming from the house shortly before 5 a.m.
"The whole house is burnt," Suffolk police Det. Sgt. Charles Leser said Sunday at the scene.
Chief Larry Bradbury of the Deer Park Fire Department said it took about an hour to put out the blaze. He said a Deer Park firefighter was treated and released from Southside Hospital in Bay Shore for second-degree burns on his ears, neck and knuckles.
Sunday afternoon, the backyard was visible through massive openings that the fire had cut through the first and second stories of the structure.
The origin of the blaze remained under investigation, but police said the preliminary indication was that it was an electrical fire.
Talavera, 24, who was visiting his childhood home for the Fourth of July weekend, said he woke sometime before 5 a.m. when police officers knocked on his door to ask if he had seen anything.
He said he was the one who informed Di Dea's sister -- who he said had also lived in the home until recently -- that she had died.
Growing up, Talavera had helped shovel Di Dea's driveway and visited her regularly.
He described her as a "sweet old woman, very religious." He had known the victim and her sister since he was an altar boy at Saints Cyril and Methodius, the Roman Catholic church in Deer Park that the women attended.
Later, they grew closer after his family moved in next door and he started helping her around the house.
"It's just complete and utter shock," he said. "I don't know how else to explain it."
Police said Di Dea lived alone. Family members at the scene declined to comment.
Firefighters from six departments helped battle the blaze, according to Suffolk fire officials. Departments at the scene included Deer Park, East Farmingdale, North Babylon, West Babylon, Dix Hills and Wyandanch.
With Lisa Irizarry