An 83-year-old woman described as a hoarder was killed when her Bethel Park house caught fire this morning -- burning faster because of its contents, fire officials said.
The smoke at 85 Highland Road was reported at 5:01 a.m. When firefighters arrived, the blaze was already fierce.
They tried to force their way in but the heat and smoke pushed them back, Allegheny County Chief Deputy Fire Marshal Don Brucker said.
A woman dwas killed when her Bethel Park house caught fire this morning. (Raw video by Darrell Sapp; 6/1/2012)
They were able to contain the fire in less than an hour.
About 9 a.m., as they demolished the charred remnants of the house looking for its resident, firefighters found Liz Cutone's body on the first floor.
Bethel Park fire Chief Dave Gerber said having so much fuel only fed the fire.
"She was definitely a hoarder," he said. "It makes it harder. It makes it burn a lot faster."
Mr. Brucker said there was no sign she tried to escape. Investigators have not yet determined the cause of the fire, he said.
Wayne Bock, 79, who has lived across the street from Ms. Cutone for 37 years, said she called him Thursday night about 9:30 p.m.
"She was very depressed," he said. "She said if she had a gun she would kill herself."
Mr. Bock said he then strongly discouraged her from doing so and told her he would come over the next day.
"She said, 'You come over and look in the garage and take anything no charge,'" he said.
Mr. Bock said one of her friends had recently died and her driver's license had been revoked, deepening her depression.
Ms. Cutone was well known for the items with which she filled her house and her van and her involvement with local politics.
"That van was packed to the gills," said Martin Ryczkowski, 66, a neighbor in Bethel Park. "She would leave things on the curb with little notes that said 'free.'"
Don Harrison, 84, a Bethel Park councilman, said Ms. Cutone was also known for her political advocacy.
"People called her the 'sign lady' because she always had signs for candidates in her yard," he said. "You'd go by and she'd have six or seven signs."
Mr. Harrison said Ms. Cutone was a presence at council meetings and in local campaigns.
"She supported me from day one," said Mr. Harrison, who has been a Republican councilman for decades. "She was a Republican through and through."
Mr. Harrison said a major subject of her political activity was new development, particularly the construction of the Village Square Mall about 25 years ago.
"She didn't want all that commercial activity," Mr. Harrison said. "There is a lot more traffic here now."
Ms. Cutone was cited about a dozen times from the late 1970s to 2006 for clutter in her yard and overgrown grass, Rodney Farver, a Bethel Park building code official, said.
"She did community service once," Mr. Farver said. "She also did community service on her own. She would deliver food for the homeless."
Peter Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1939. First Published June 1, 2012 1:15 PM