Monday, August 31, 2015

Two die in West Oak Lane house fire

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Gallery: Two die in West Oak Lane house fire

The house on Beechwood Street in West Oak Lane had been Theresa Lukert's home since before the road was even paved. According to her family, <NO1>73-year-old<NO>Lukert, 73, lived in the two-story building as a child, as a new mother raising her children, and, most recently, as a widow.

After a fire started in Lukert's home early Wednesday, she and Beaufort Davis, her longtime friend, roommate, and companion, apparently tried to extinguish it. But the flames and smoke grew too quickly, and by the time firefighters arrived, Lukert was dead. Davis, 76, died later at Einstein Medical Center.

Philadelphia Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers said that firefighters saw numerous extension cords running through the house, but that the cause of the fire was under investigation. There were smoke alarms in the house, but authorities said all weren't functioning.

Firefighters also discovered a bucket and running water in a bathroom, which led them to believe Davis and Lukert tried to put out the fire instead of trying to escape.

“We are telling you to call 911 — do not try to fight the fire,” Ayers said as a warning to others. “Get everyone out.”

On Tuesday morning, Lukert's stepdaughter, Tanya Wood, stood in front of the burned-out home, where charred and broken pieces of furniture were piled in the alleyway like kindling. Wood was raised by Lukert, who welcomed her into the family when she married Wood's father.

“She was a giver,” Wood said. “She always took good care of us. And everyone on the block knew her.”

Lukert worked for the Penn Emblem Co., a West Oak Lane factory that once manufactured printed and embroidered patches for uniforms. After retirement, she and her husband lived in their house together until his death several years ago.

Davis was a longtime friend who moved in with Lukert to help out around the house and keep her company, Wood said.

“The neighborhood had changed,” Wood said, “so he looked out for her.”

Jeannette McLaurin, who lived across the street from Lukert for 28 years, said she knew Lukert as “Miss Theresa” and Davis as “Mr. Brother.”

“Such a tragedy,” McLaurin said. “Two good people. Two good neighbors.”

The fire is the second this week that resulted in death. On Monday, two men were killed in Kensington after a fire was sparked in their Joyce Street home by a space heater that Ayers said might have been powered by an illegal electrical hookup. The victims, a man, 78, and a younger man, have not been identified.

Contact Allison Steele at 215-854-2641 or asteele@phillynews.com.

INQUIRER STAFF WRITER
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