Los Angeles News

Whittier house fire claims lives of husband, wife of 63 years

Saturday, September 03, 2011

A fire that broke out at a house in Whittier claimed the lives of a husband and wife who were married for 63 years.

Flames erupted in the couple's home Friday morning in the 10500 block of Orange Drive.

Margaret Wanke, 84, was rushed to a hospital with third-degree burns over 50 percent of her body, but she succumbed to her injuries. Her husband, 87-year-old Ron Wanke, died a short time later.

From the outside, a boarded up window is the only obvious sign of the double tragedy inside the quaint Whittier home. The couple moved in when they were newlyweds and raised their four children there.

For Jesse Maldonado, who tried desperately to save his elderly neighbors from the fire, it's hard to comprehend.

"There was no way for me to get in there," he said. "The smoke was from the ceiling almost all the way to the ground."

Family members say Ron Wanke tried desperately to save his longtime love.

"They had a really close marriage," said the couple's niece, Sharyn McDonald. "He died trying to save her but didn't make it."

The Wanke's son-in-law, Dennis Ferlin, said Wanke was in his office when the fire started in the den. He said Margaret Wanke was in the den sitting in her chair.

Family and friends say they take some comfort in knowing they died together.

"They were terrific people," Ferlin said. "He was as thorough and as nice a person as you'd ever want to meet. He was a terrific person. They loved each other very dearly."

A police officer who tried to rescue the couple was hospitalized for smoke inhalation.

Authorities believe an electrical short sparked the fire.

(Copyright ©2014 KABC-TV/DT. All Rights Reserved.)

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fire, los angeles news, leanne suter
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