FRANKFORT TOWNSHIP – An elderly couple died early Wednesday when a fire broke out in their longtime home.
Erwin Pauls, 81, and his wife, Arline, 80, died in the fire at 9400 Magnolia Lane that was so intense efforts by police to get into the house were thwarted by heavy smoke.
Kaylee Stitnizky, who lives across the street, woke up to see the house "completely in flames."
"They [seemed] very nice. It's very sad," Stitnizky said.
Will County Sheriff's Deputy Chief Ken Kaupas said two deputies were nearby when the fire was reported at 3:23 a.m. and were able to arrive before firefighters.
"They attempted to make entry at the back of the residence but were beaten back by the heavy smoke," Kaupas said. "After the fire was extinguished they found the couple deceased in a bedroom."
Frankfort Fire Chief Jim Grady said fire caused heavy damage in the middle of the single-story ranch house, but is not considered suspicious.
A Mokena police officer who also went to check for victims was taken to Silver Cross Hospital to be treated for smoke inhalation, Grady said.
The Will County Coroner's office said the victims were pronounced dead at the scene at 4:48 a.m. Autopsies performed Wednesday indicate smoke inhalation caused the Pauls' deaths.
Stitnizky and other neighbors said Erwin Pauls recently had medical issues that limited his mobility, and the couple kept to themselves.
"He liked working in his yard up until the last couple of years," Fred Hyser said. Hyser said he often saw the Pauls sitting out front when he'd walk his children to a nearby playground.
"They'd always give a friendly wave and smile when they saw the kids," he said. Neighbors outside Wednesday morning said the Pauls had lived in their home at least 20 years.
Nicole Klaric said until recently Arline Pauls could be seen walking a small dog around the neighborhood.
"We didn't talk much but she'd say hello and ask how my young twins were doing as she walked by if I was outside. Except for the lawn service they didn't have visitors over," Klaric said.