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Wheelchair-bound woman dies in State Street fire

By Howard B. Owens

(Post updated 10:18 p.m.)

A woman who'd been reportedly warned about smoking near her oxygen tank died tonight in a fire at 132 State St., Batavia.

The cause of the fire has not yet been determined, but several people reported hearing explosions as the fire broke out.

Batavia Police Officer Chris Camp was the first on scene and reported a fully involved structure fire. Camp and witnesses tried to enter the residence to rescue the woman, but flames, fed by exploding oxygen tanks, prevented them from reaching her.

UPDATE 9:42 a.m., Wednesday: The woman has been identified as Mary E. Pawlukiewicz

The woman's husband arrived at the scene about 6:45 p.m., but other family members had not yet been notified, so the woman's identity was not released. She was 57, reportedly confined to a wheelchair and lived alone in a ground-floor apartment.

Batavia Fire Chief Ralph Hyde said city firefighters found the woman's body buried under rubble.

"That was hard on them," he said.

The complex was home to three families, according to landlord Chuck Pero.

"It's just too bad that it happened," Pero said. "She was warned about not smoking with the oxygen. She wouldn't listen to anybody."

When firefighters arrived on scene at 5:45 p.m., flames were already reaching into the attic, according to Hyde.

"I had some report of an oxygen tank exploding, which would have fed that fire very rapidly," Hyde said.

The investigation by Batavia fire and police remains ongoing at 10:15 p.m., with the assistance from Genesee County Deputy Emergency Management Coordinator Keith Hunt and and New York State Fire Investigator Montour Falls.

American Red Cross is assisting the other displaced families.

Above, after learning of a family member's death, relatives console each other with a fire official.

More pictures after the jump:

Above, residents remove an aquarium that firefighters carried from the building after the fire was out. One of the residents said the aquarium contained a bull python.

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