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2 women dead in fire in Fineview neighborhood of Pittsburgh

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Wednesday, April 30, 2014, 7:12 a.m.
 

They were the neighborhood dog lovers who cared for each other and neighbors.

Two women killed in a house fire on Belleau Street in Fineview on Wednesday hosted Doggie Night on some Fridays and looked after neighbors' dogs while people worked or traveled out of town, neighbors said.

The Allegheny County Medical Examiner's Office has not released the women's names, but neighbors and property records identified them as Judy Rassias and Cathy Arkus.

Neighbors said Rassias received a call from her sister before the fire, informing her that her father had died.

“They both took care of each other, and they took care of the rest of us,” Marcia Kraus said. “They were amazing. They would do anything for anybody.”

The fire ripped through the women's home and spread to two neighboring houses, destroying roofs and melting siding. Firefighters found the women's bodies on the third floor. No one else was injured.

Pat Johnston was about to leave for work when she saw what she thought was fog on Belleau Street. She stepped outside and smelled smoke.

“I started ringing doorbells and screaming to get out,” Johnston said, adding she couldn't get close to the burning home. “I don't think anyone could get inside. The fire was too intense.”

Arkus moved in with Rassias when their husbands died and Arkus lost her house to foreclosure, Kraus said. Arkus had dogs, and Rassias opened her home to them.

On some Fridays, the two would host a party for neighborhood dogs, Kraus said. A dozen or so dogs would play in their yard while neighbors shared food and stories.

The women gave neighbors rides to doctor appointments, and once they offered to pick up Kraus when she was stranded by a broken-down car, she said.

The women rarely left their house in recent months, neighbors said. Arkus had arthritis and Rassias had cancer, Kraus said.

Firefighters received a call about the blaze at 6:39 a.m. and arrived in five minutes, Pittsburgh fire Chief Darryl Jones said.

Neighbors said the fire spread fast, starting on the second floor and engulfing the third floor. Flames shot from windows and smoke billowed.

Preliminary reports indicate that a burning cigarette on the second floor started the fire, which trapped the women, public safety spokeswoman Sonya Toler said. Jones said one of the women was in a bathroom and the other was in a chair. He said neighbors told investigators both women had mobility issues.

Richard Cramer lived next door and said the two looked after his dogs while he worked.

“We were best of friends,” said Cramer, who wasn't home when the fire started. Firefighters broke through his front door to save his two West Highland terriers. Neighbors said the women's two dogs and a cat died in the fire.

Aaron Aupperlee is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7986 or aaupperlee@tribweb.com.

Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review - Firefighters battle a fire in multiple houses along Belleau Street in Fineview on Wednesday, April 30, 2014. Two women died in the fire.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Stephanie Strasburg  |  Tribune-Review</em></div>Firefighters battle a fire in multiple houses along Belleau Street in Fineview on Wednesday, April 30, 2014. Two women died in the fire.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review - People watch as emergency workers respond to the fatal fire along Belleau Street in Fineview on Wednesday, April 30, 2014.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Stephanie Strasburg  |  Tribune-Review</em></div>People watch as emergency workers respond to the fatal fire along Belleau Street in Fineview on Wednesday, April 30, 2014.
WPXI - Firefighters battle a burning home on Belleau Street in Fineview on Wednesday, April 30, 2014.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>WPXI</em></div>Firefighters battle a burning home on Belleau Street in Fineview on Wednesday, April 30, 2014.
Submitted - Judy Rassias (left) and Cathy Arkus died in a house fire in Fineview on Wednesday morning. The two women moved in together after the deaths of their husbands.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Submitted</em></div>Judy Rassias (left) and Cathy Arkus died in a house fire in Fineview on Wednesday morning. The two women moved in together after the deaths of their husbands.
WPXI - Firefighters battle a burning home on Belleau Street in Fineview on Wednesday, April 30, 2014.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>WPXI</em></div>Firefighters battle a burning home on Belleau Street in Fineview on Wednesday, April 30, 2014.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review - A firefighter puts an oxygen tank on his back as crews respond to a neighboring pair of houses that caught fire in Fineview along Belleau Street near Meadville Stree early Wednesday morning, April 30, 2014.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review</em></div>A firefighter puts an oxygen tank on his back as crews respond to a neighboring pair of houses that caught fire in Fineview along Belleau Street near Meadville Stree early Wednesday morning, April 30, 2014.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review - Rain falls as fire trucks line the street adjacent to a neighboring pair of houses that caught fire in Fineview along Belleau Street near Meadville Stree early Wednesday morning, April 30, 2014.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review</em></div>Rain falls as fire trucks line the street adjacent to a neighboring pair of houses that caught fire in Fineview along Belleau Street near Meadville Stree early Wednesday morning, April 30, 2014.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review - A Pittsburgh Paramedic watches as smoke pours out of a home in Fineview where a neighboring pair of houses caught fire along Belleau Street near Meadville Stree early Wednesday morning, April 30, 2014.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review</em></div>A Pittsburgh Paramedic watches as smoke pours out of a home in Fineview where a neighboring pair of houses caught fire along Belleau Street near Meadville Stree early Wednesday morning, April 30, 2014.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review - Pittsburgh Bureau of Fire Battalion Chief Praskovich surveys the scene as smoke pours from the back of a neighboring pair of houses that caught fire in Fineview along Belleau Street near Meadville Stree early Wednesday morning, April 30, 2014.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review</em></div>Pittsburgh Bureau of Fire Battalion Chief Praskovich surveys the scene as smoke pours from the back of a neighboring pair of houses that caught fire in Fineview along Belleau Street near Meadville Stree early Wednesday morning, April 30, 2014.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review - Firefighters use hoses on a neighboring pair of houses that caught fire in Fineview along Belleau Street near Meadville Stree early Wednesday morning, April 30, 2014.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review</em></div>Firefighters use hoses on a neighboring pair of houses that caught fire in Fineview along Belleau Street near Meadville Stree early Wednesday morning, April 30, 2014.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review - Smoke and flames rise from the hillside in Fineview where a neighboring pair of homes caught fire along Belleau Street near Meadville Stree early Wednesday morning, April 30, 2014.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review</em></div>Smoke and flames rise from the hillside in Fineview where a neighboring pair of homes caught fire along Belleau Street near Meadville Stree early Wednesday morning, April 30, 2014.
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