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Woman dies in Catty fire

Emergency personnel from across the Lehigh Valley responded to a house fire in Catasauqua Borough April 3 that claimed a woman’s life.

The woman, identified April 6 as Cynthia Acerra, 75, was pronounced dead just after 4 p.m. the day of the fire by Lehigh County Deputy Coroner Gabrielle Alcaro, according to the Lehigh County Coroner’s Office.

The house fire, at 119 Union St., was first reported just after 5:30 a.m. The building was reportedly a total loss. Firefighters deemed the structure unstable early on and took action to keep other structures clear from debris.

Reportedly, one firefighter was injured but returned to continue helping put out the fire.

It was reported the fire was exacerbated by an extreme hoarding situation in the home. The cause of the fire remains unknown because of the conditions inside.

“The owner is a hoarder. The home was filled with a lot of items in the house, which makes the identification process difficult,” Catasauqua Police Department Chief Douglas Kish said.

Furniture and books in the stairway reportedly caused trouble during the fire as firefighters at the scene said they had a difficult time trying to fight the fire in the narrowed halls. Debris throughout the house kept feeding the fire, making it harder for emergency personnel to extinguish the flames, it was reported.

Firefighters worked into the late morning.

Catasauqua Fire Department Chief Richard Hertzog noted firefighters had to contend with blocked windows, which hampered their efforts to put out the fire. Reportedly, some of the windows were blocked by bookcases nailed to the window jambs. This and the other debris led to firefighters being stopped at 13 access points, according to Hertzog. He noted a drone was used to try and get different angles to fight the fire.

“We have several properties in the borough in this situation. We do not have any recourse against owners who keep their properties in shambles,” Hertzog said. “Code enforcement needs to be notified of the situation. Properties like this are a menace to their neighbors. We should not put firefighters at risk for something like this.”

Reportedly, Catasauqua Borough Council will have to look at the process and procedures of addressing this problem.

Catasauqua Mayor Barbara Schlegel used emergency orders to have the building demolished. Dumpsters - a total of 16 - were used to reduce the rubble to a manageable pile.

Hertzog reported the process took 18 hours.

He added this fire is the first fatality in 40 years.

Early reports indicated there could be two victims, but only one fatality has been confirmed.

In addition to the coroner’s office, Acerra’s death is being investigated by Catasauqua fire and police departments.

Lehigh County Coroner Eric Minnich said a determination of the cause and manner of Acerra’s death are pending further forensic testing. She was identified by dental records.

The coroner’s office is seeking information on Acerra’s next of kin. Anyone with information on her or her family is asked to call 610-782-3426.

PRESS PHOTOS BY SCOTT M. NAGY Emergency personnel work to fight a residential fire early in the morning April 3 at 119 Union St., Catasauqua. Firefighters received the call shortly after 5:30 a.m.
The house was full of items and debris, which made fighting the fire challenging for emergency personnel, it was reported.
Emergency crews clear away the rubble after demolishing the house. Catasauqua Mayor Barbara Schlegel ordered an emergency demolition of the structure.
PRESS PHOTO BY SCOTT M. NAGY Firefighters take to the roof of 119 Union St., Catasauqua, to fight the April 3 fire from different angles.