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Malfunctioning Fireplace Cause of Deadly Whately Fire

whately fire

WHATELY, Mass. (WGGB) — Investigators have determined what killed a woman and her daughter in an overnight fire.

Flames tear through the roof of a Whately farmhouse. A blaze that would claim the lives of 94-year-old Mary Golonka and her 64-year-old daughter Sonja.

According to fire officials, it was Sonja Golonka who made a frantic 911 call around 11:30 Wednesday night when fire and smoke were engulfing their home.

“The neighbors said that there were two people that lived here. They were both still inside. We entered the house. We found both the mother and daughter and sent them to Cooley Dickinson Hospital by ambulance,” says Whately Fire Chief John Hannum.

CPR was performed on both victims, but both were pronounced dead at the hospital.

By midday Thursday, investigators found that a malfunctioning fireplace led to the fire.

Hannum and State Fire Marshal Stephen Coan say that the fire started underneath the floor of an old prefabricated fireplace where, over time, the fireproof brick had cracked and the metal fireplace rusted and decayed.

The deterioration allowed heat and perhaps sparks from the wood stove and fireplace to come in contact with the wooden structure of the house.

Hannum also says weather played a role in the rapid spread of the fire. “It was windy and the fire was blowing from the shed from the back to the front towards the street,” he adds.

The house is adjacent to Golonka Farms, a popular produce stand.

Tracy Keyes lives across the street. “The younger one who passed, she was really wonderful. She was really nice…nice to the kids. We always went to get blueberries. We got all our vegetables across the street. She was very quiet but very nice,” she says.

Coan is urging people to ensure that their heating sources are properly serviced and maintained.

“This tragedy underscores the need to have our heating appliances – whether it’s a chimney, a wood stove, a propane gas or oil fueled furnace – checked by a licensed professional annually. Regular maintenance of heating systems is key to preventing fires,” Coan adds.

Hannum notes, “Whately is such a small tight-knit community that a tragedy like this touches us all. Today I have not only lost two members of my community, but two friends as well.”


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