PROSPECT — An 88-year-old woman died in a fire that consumed her home at 62 Summit Road Wednesday morning.
Alice Ostapko lived alone in the two-story clapboard house, which was gutted. She is the first person to die in a fire in Prospect in at least two decades.
A firefighter suffered minor smoke inhalation while battling the fire, which was reported at 7:11 a.m., but he was not hospitalized, fire officials said.
Mayor Bob Chatfield, who is also assistant fire chief, was on scene within one minute of the call. He was joined by 50 members of the 70-member volunteer fire department.
“When we arrived on the scene, fire had not broken out yet,” Chatfield said. “There was smoke coming out of the shingles and eaves, then a window let go and the entire house went up in flames.”
Fire engulfed the house and attic. A hole had burned through the first floor from the basement.
Chatfield said there was a lot of “clutter” in the house that initially prevented firefighters from locating Ostapko, whose body was found in a doorway between the kitchen and a room on the side of the house.
A breezeway connects the two-bedroom house to a one-car garage. A maroon-colored Buick was in the driveway.
Firefighters had the fire under control within 40 minutes, but were still attacking hot spots at around 10 a.m. Firefighters also cut a hole in the roof to vent gases.
Fire melted the sides of the home’s entrance, and blackened the stairs leading to the front door. Burnt armchairs and other pieces of furniture were placed on patches of ice in the front yard.
Fire Marshal Keith Griffin said the fire started in a small dining room on the first floor. The fire was accidental, but the cause is undetermined, he said.
A portion of Summit Road was closed while Griffin, aided by state fire marshals, investigated the cause of the fire. One lane was open by noon, and it was fully open by 2 p.m.
The Chief State Medical Examiner’s Office will perform an autopsy to determine the cause of Ostapko’s death.
Chatfield said Ostapko’s grandson, who lives in Massachusetts, was coming to Prospect on Wednesday. The grandson told Chatfield that his grandmother slept in the living room on the first floor.
Though it has not been determined, it appears from where her body was found she was trying to get out of the house, fire officials said.
“There was a problem accessing her because of the collection of stuff in the house,” Chatfield said.
He said Ostapko was well known around town. Her husband and son died years ago.
“I saw her [often] at the Dairy Bar,” Chatfield said of the popular restaurant on Route 69. “She got her hair done at the salon where my wife works. It’s like losing a grandmother.”
Daniel Gugliotti, a friend of Ostapko’s who lives in Waterbury, stood outside her home around 10:30 a.m. He said he had called her Tuesday to check on her, and she told him she was doing all right. Gugliotti said he drove Ostapko to the doctor’s office or grocery store and other places.
Ostapko ate at the Dairy Bar at least four times a week, and sometimes twice a day, said Carol Jones, the restaurant’s owner.
Ostapko, a customer for 26 years, would sit either on the same stool at the counter or in a booth by the front door, she said. She would order soup; her favorite was chicken tortellini, she said. She described Ostapko as a happy person who was active and independent.
They shared laughs, too. When she gave Ostapko a ride home, Ostapko had to use a milk crate to step into Jones’ large SUV, she said.
Ostapko loved Jones’ cook, Dave DeBiase, and called him a sweetheart, she said.
“She was just a real nice lady,” DeBiase said. “What a shame. We will miss her.”
He said he may suggest dedicating the stool in Ostapko’s name.
Ostapko served for more than five years on the board of the Greater Waterbury Transit District, said Dr. Yvonne Denise Smith-Isaac, board chairman. Ostapko, who used to be a nurse at Saint Mary’s Hospital in Waterbury, oversaw transportation for the elderly and disabled, she said.
Ostapko was interested in making sure there was transportation for those in Prospect, and she liked helping people, Smith-Isaac said.
“Once she found someone who needed help, she would help them,” Smith-Isaac said.