S. Jamaica grandmother dies in fire

Andre Perry walks out of the home where his mother-in-law Ida Elaine Spencer died in a fire the night before. Photo by Christina Santucci
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A beloved grandmother was killed in a house fire in South Jamaica Wednesday night. The woman’s family said they were downstairs and did not realize the second floor was in flames until their neighbors began pounding on the door.

“I know she was helpless,” said a neighbor, who identified herself as Kim V. “We couldn’t help her.”

The cause of the second-floor fire at 146-03 120th Ave. was still under investigation, FDNY said.

Andre Perry, who lives in the house with his wife Sharon Spencer and 11-year-old daughter Leah Perry said he believed his wife’s mother Ida Elaine Spencer, 69, was asleep when she died. Perry said they had been cleaning up after dinner when their neighbors alerted them to the fire upstairs at around 11:30 p.m.

“People were knocking on the door, banging and screaming,” Perry said.

Perry said neighbors or passers-by called 911. Meanwhile, he went to try to save Elaine Spencer, but found a rescue impossible.

“Once I got up the steps, the smoke and the fire was too thick,” Perry said. “So I couldn’t go into the bedroom.”

The rescue attempt scared his daughter, who went outside with her mother.

“I was like ‘Daddy, don’t go,’” Leah said. “I’m not losing both of you.”

Leah said her mother tried to follow Perry, but neighbors held her back.

Firefighters were alerted to the blaze at 12:01 a.m. Thursday morning and arrived at 12:03 a.m., FDNY said. The fire was under control at 12:39 a.m., FDNY said.

Perry said Elaine Spencer’s body was burned beyond recognition when she was found.

“It’s a little hard,” he said. “It’s tough.”

The top of the house was charred and boarded up the next day. Burnt debris could be seen near the house.

“If you go up the stairs, all of that is black,” Leah said, motioning at the walls of the house.

The family said Thursday they would be staying at a hotel arranged by the Red Cross.

Perry said he had a good relationship with Elaine Spencer, who had lived in the house all her life. He said she was a friendly, giving woman who liked to clean, sew and take care of her grandchild.

“When I got a stomach ache, even if she was in pain, she could come get me from school,” Leah said. “She would make me some soup when I was home and she would take care of me.”

Sharon Spencer said her mother had been married to her father for 27 years before they divorced. She said her mother worked as a bookkeeper at a furniture store in Manhattan for 40 years until she retired.

“She made me the strong person I am today,” she said. “We’re going to miss her.”

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4564.

Updated 2:31 pm, February 3, 2012
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