Altoona woman killed in house fire

An Altoona woman in her late 60s died in a house fire early Saturday morning while her husband was hospitalized with burns on 15 percent of his body.

Sally L. Rhodes, of 227 Seventh Ave. died in the blaze that started about 4:30 a.m., family members said Saturday. Her husband, Wayne, was flown by helicopter to UPMC Mercy Hospital in Pittsburgh for treatment of burns. He remained hospitalized Saturday night.

“I think he’s going to be OK, but I don’t know if he’s going to get along without her,” said Rhodes’ oldest daughter, Bobbie Lauritsen of Altoona.

The Rhodes’ house and their belongings were destroyed.

Neighbors described Sally Rhodes, believed to be 67, as a wonderful woman.

“I more or less called her ‘Mother’ because she was like a mother to me. I lost mine when I was young,” said Linda Dempsie of 225 Seventh Ave.

“I’ve known her for over 20 years. … She had such a good heart,” Dempsie said.

Dempsie’s daughter, Jen Eger of Lock Haven, also praised her former neighbor.

“She was helpful, nice, so sweet,” Eger said early Saturday afternoon as she stood across the street from the charred remains of the Rhodes’ house and the heavily damaged house of her parents. “My mom was always talking with her.”

Neighbor Angela Reed smiled while she spoke of Sally and Wayne Rhodes.

“When we were younger, they were one of the first people you’d go to for support or whatever,” Reed said. “He always dressed up for Halloween, to hand out candy to the kids. One year, he was dressed like a giant Pink Panther.”

Reed said she saw the fire after the responding firetrucks made her dogs start barking.

“By the time I got downstairs and went outside, there were flames rolling out the front and back of their house,” Reed said.

Lauritsen said her stepfather suffered burns on his upper body while trying to get her mother out of the house. Her mother, because of her health, depends on oxygen tanks, which may have contributed to the cause of the fire, Lauritsen said.

Altoona Fire Department Inspector Tim Hughes said Saturday night that the cause remains under investigation, but the oxygen tanks were responsible for the fire’s rapid growth.

“When our first engine got on scene, there was already a lot of fire,” Hughes said.

Lauritsen said her daughter, Lyndzi, who lived with the Rhodes, was in the house with her boyfriend while the fire and smoke were spreading through the house.

“Lyndzi and her boyfriend, they were the ones who got her pap out,” Lauritsen said in reference to Wayne Rhodes.

Hughes said the firefighters were aware that someone remained inside the house.

“But we were just dealing with so much fire,” Hughes said.

Linda Dempsie praised her brother, Glenn Holland of Greenwood, who was driving by on his way to work when he noticed “an orange glow” in the Rhodes’ home. She said he broke the window of her back door to gain entry to the house, then ran upstairs to roust her and finance Chester J. Eger Jr. from sleep.

“And I’m so glad he did because the fire department never knocked on our door,” Dempsie said.

Hughes said the fire crews put their training to use to restrict the fire as much as possible from the neighboring structures.

“Both houses on the other sides of the Rhodes house are salvageable,” Hughes said.

The Blair County chapter of the American Red Cross assisted Dempsie and Eger with temporary housing. Dempsie said they do not have home owner’s insurance and will need help rebuilding the portion of the house damaged by fire.

“We can’t go back to our house right now because there’s no power,” she said Saturday.

Bobbie Lauritsen said family and friends were beginning to collect clothing for her stepfather.

Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 946-7456.