Woman, 81, killed in fire in Crown Heights brownstone

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CROWN HEIGHTS, Brooklyn — An overnight fire killed an 81-year-old mother of seven in Crown Heights and sent a second woman to the hospital, police said.

Flames broke out about 1:15 a.m. Thursday at a home on Pacific Street near New York Avenue, police said.

The fire was deemed accidental electrical and was sparked by an overloaded power strip, FDNY fire marshals said.

When fire crews extinguished the blaze, they found an 81-year-old woman unconscious and unresponsive on the third floor of the brownstone. The victim, identified by her family as Gertrude Duncan, was pronounced dead at the scene.

Neighbors said everyone on the block affectionately knew Duncan as "mom" or "grandma."

Suzanne Mattiello, who called 911, said she's been living next to the victim for 13 years and decribed her as a "very sweet lady."

Preston Godfrey is the boyfriend of Duncan's daughter. He said his grief-stricken girlfriend tried in vain to free her mother from the thick smoke.

"She was fast asleep and the door was locked," he said. "Her daughter has a key but couldn't find the key to open the door and get her out."

Finally, the victim's grandson broke down the door, but there was nothing more he could do.

As fire raged all around, residents desperately tried to save each other -- and themselves. Eric Burke said he knew there was only one way out: by rappelling four stories down.

"I said, I'm going to sit on the window and the cable wire hanging, and I came right down," he recalled to PIX11 news.

A second woman in her 40s suffered burns to her hands, police said. She was taken to a hospital for treatment.