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81-year-old shut-in killed in Fresh Meadows inferno

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Police suspect the blaze, which broke out around 8 a.m., was started by a cigarette Lucienne Alter was smoking in her bedroom at 171-02 69th Ave.Doris Ginsberg, who lives across the street, said a neighbor knocked on her door that morning and told her smoke was billowing from the roof of Alter's house."It was odd that it was white smoke coming out of the attic vent from under the eaves," said Ginsberg's husband, Howard. "By the time I called 911 the smoke was pure black."When fire trucks arrived, the scene was so chaotic with firefighters, ambulances and TV crews scrambling around that Howard Ginsberg could not tell what had happened to Alter."I told a fireman who walked by that they could bring her over here where it's warm," said the retired plumbing supplies distributor. "But he just looked at me and walked on." He only learned later after talking with reporters that the woman had died in the fire.He and his wife, a retired nurse, said they had known Alter for the 50 years they have lived there. A French immigrant who lived alone after her husband died more than a decade ago and her two sons moved out, Alter seemed capable of living independently up until about a year ago, the Ginsbergs said."She was a tough lady," said Howard Ginsberg, who recalled when she used to drive her car around most days before her legs began to give out. "Then she was really stuck to her house," he said.But despite pleas from her sons, Daniel and Bernard, to agree to having a nurse or to come live with them in Long Island, the elderly woman stayed put, according to the Ginsbergs."It's a sad thing. Her demise hit me harder than all those who died in the tsunami because this was personal," Howard Ginsberg said. Trying to find some humor, the 77-year-old added half-heartedly, "I guess that leaves us now as the senior citizens of the block."Reach reporter Zach Patberg by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 155.

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