Mayfield, Pennsylvania's Deputy Fire Chief Loses His Mother In House Fire

MAYFIELD -- James Perry Jr. visited his mother every night he could. He'd bring her dinner, have a seat and chat.

But the lights in the family home at 613 Poplar St. have gone out for the last time. The sun set Tuesday over the scorched shell of an empty house, the only lights coming from a Christmas decoration blinking on the nearby electric pole.

Mr. Perry's 88-year-old mother, Mary, died in an early morning blaze Tuesday. She was a heavy smoker, and firefighters said a burning cigarette most likely sparked the flames.

She is the first person killed in a fire during the 123-year history of Mayfield, according to Mayfield Hose Company Fire Chief Joseph J. Tomcavage.

A Mayfield police officer spotted the smoke and alerted longtime next-door neighbor Phyllis Jaskowiec, who works as borough secretary.

But Mr. Perry, who is Mayfield's deputy fire chief, did not get word of the fire right away. Chief Tomcavage said Mr. Perry's pager was not turned on at the time, so he did not get the call.

Reached at home Tuesday night, Mr. Perry declined to talk about the tragedy. But Mrs. Jaskowiec and others remembered how close he was to his mother.

"He came every night," she said. "Jimmy brought her meals."

The two-story home on Poplar Street was the Perrys' for more than 50 years. Mrs. Jaskowiec said they rented it for decades, and only recently did Jimmy buy it for his mother. It was a wooden house later enclosed in bricks, she added.

"It was like an oven. It was double-boarded and that heat just stayed in there. The flames were shooting 15 feet out of the windows," Chief Tomcavage said.

By late Tuesday, it had been reduced to a windowless husk, blackened inside from the intense flames. A charred sofa and chair lay outside in the snow and the back porch roof was sagging.

"It doesn't even look like a home anymore," Mrs. Jaskowiec said.

Mrs. Perry worked at a former garment factory on Lackawanna Avenue in Mayfield and also at the Sugerman's store in Eynon. Her late husband, James F. Perry Sr., was an icon on the sports scene for three decades as a coach and athletic director at Lakeland High School. Following in his father's footsteps, their son -- an only child -- also teaches and coaches in Lakeland School District.

After her husband died in 1988, Mrs. Perry insisted on remaining in the house, even though she used a walker and had trouble on stairs, Mrs. Jaskowiec said.

"She was an independent person," she added. "If she wanted to go left, there was no way you were going to make her go right."

Chief Tomcavage said it's the tradition of successive Mayfield fire chiefs to pass along a history of the department. Until this week, he said, there was no record of any fire-related fatalities.

ANDREW M. SEDER, Tribune regional staff writer, contributed to this report.