CALIFORNIA BOROUGH (KDKA) — A community is in mourning today following the death of an elderly woman in a house fire Monday evening in Washington County.
Authorities have now identified the victim as 87-year-old Mildred Shrum. Her home was destroyed in the blaze.
“She was everybody’s second mother. She always had a house full of children,” said Norma Riley, a family friend. “She worked very hard all her life. She didn’t deserve to die like this.”
California Borough firefighters arrived to find the home off of Union Street engulfed in flames with the 87-year-old woman trapped inside.
Jim Matheson, a neighbor, says his son-in-law made a brave but futile attempt to save Shrum.
“My son-in-law couldn’t get in. He’s all cut up trying to bust the windows,” he said. “He couldn’t get in.”
The fire broke out in a garage and spread quickly through the structure. Matheson wants to know how it started.
“There’s nothing back there but empty space and a car that’s older than 50-years-old,” said Matheson. “There’s nothing but metal and there’s no electricity.”
Neighbors say Shrum lived there with her son, but was planning to move to a high rise apartment.
“She’s been in declining health the last couple of years and she just couldn’t make it out,” said Riley.
Officials say Shrum’s son was not at home when the fire broke out.
A neighbor was treated for smoke inhalation and three firefighters suffered heat exhaustion.
The State Police Fire Marshal continues to investigating the cause.