BROOKLYN — A 91-year-old "fun-loving and independent" woman died early Monday when a fire erupted in her Prospect Heights apartment building, officials and relatives said.
Olga Bates was found unconscious in her second-story apartment after the predawn blaze tore through the first floor in the back of the Organic Deli Grocery at 587 Franklin Ave., fire and police officials said.
Bates was rushed to Interfaith Hospital, where she was pronounced dead, police said.
"She was very strong, stronger than me," said Bates' niece Loretta Hall, 67.
Hall and Bates had spoken last week to firm up Thanksgiving plans. Bates, who enjoyed cooking and playing games with her nieces, held her own when it came to chipping in during the holidays.
"She had all her faculties," added Hall, who visited the charred building just hours after the fire. "She was very independent."
The fire at the four-story brick building near Atlantic Avenue began at 4:30 a.m. and quickly escalated to a second-alarm minutes later, an FDNY spokesman said.
"Units were confronted with a pretty heavy fire condition on arrival, with the fire extending to the second floor," FDNY Deputy Chief Robert Strong said.
Firefighters brought the blaze under control about 90 minutes later, and it was not immediately clear if criminality was suspected, Strong said.
"The fire marshals will conduct their investigation," Strong said. "They are very good at what they do, so I'll leave the determination whether this is arson to them."
Five other victims, including three firefighters, were hurt in the blaze, officials said. An FDNY spokesman said the victims were rushed to New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center.
Their injuries did not appear to be life-threatening, the spokesman added.
Emergency responders raced to save Bates, too, but it was too late, officials said.
"She was the best lady. She was beautiful," said Bates' upstairs neighbor, Gale Williams. "Whatever you want, she would do for you."