Friends and neighbors of Diane Anderson warmly remembered the lifelong Bridgewater resident, who died in a fire at her Winter Street home the day before her 49th birthday.
“She would give you the shirt off her back,’’ said her friend Deb Hansen Poirier, who described Anderson as fun-loving and generous.
Growing up, Anderson lived on Winter Street, while Poirier lived a short distance away on South. The two were inseparable.
“We’d ride our mini-bikes to each other’s houses,’’ Poirier said. “I used to stay at her house for weeks at a time. She had bunk beds, and mine was the top. We’d go camping and fishing and play with Matchbox cars in her backyard and come in covered with dirt.’’
Although the cause of Monday’s fire remains under investigation, Bridgewater Deputy Fire Chief Thomas Levy said it does not appear to be suspicious.
“It started in the kitchen, but wasn’t related to cooking,’’ Levy said Tuesday. “I’ve concluded it will be ruled accidental.’’
The state fire marshal’s office said the investigation will remain open until autopsy results are available. “There’s no sign it’s suspicious, but it’s good practice to wait,’’ said spokeswoman Jennifer Mieth.
Anderson was living alone. She had never been married or had children. She earned degrees from Fisher and Newbury colleges, and was employed by Blue Cross/Blue Shield until she broke her back in a car accident several years ago. She had since been on disability.
“She took care of her father until he died, and she had been going back and forth to Florida to take care of her mother and stepfather,’’ Poirier said.
Anderson and Poirier attended Bridgewater-Raynham Regional High School together, spending their final two years in the cosmetology program. They graduated with the class of 1981.
“The class still has get-togethers,’’ Poirier said. “Diane went to one, a week before the fire. The people who went were very glad they got to see her.’’
Poirier said she had planned to celebrate Anderson’s 49th birthday Tuesday.
According to Deputy Chief Levy, firefighters were quick to “sweep’’ the house and locate Anderson once they arrived at about 5:30 a.m. Monday.
“They checked the bedrooms, and she was found in the furthest down,’’ Levy said. “The firefighters went back in to do another sweep because there was a report another person might be in there. They got out just as the roof was caving in and the first floor lit up.’’
Efforts to revive Anderson at the scene were unsuccessful. She was pronounced dead at Brockton Hospital.
Suzanne Connors, who lives across the street from Anderson, was awakened by her 2-year-old Monday. “When I went downstairs, I saw the flashing lights and heard windows breaking,’’ Connors recalled. “I went out and saw them trying to resuscitate her on the front lawn.’’
A neighbor, Beverly Gates, saw the smoke coming from the back of Anderson’s house early Monday, and later heard her neighbor had perished. She described Anderson as “a lovely person and good neighbor.’’
“We’ve been here over 20 years and she had been here longer,’’ Gates said. “I would invite her over sometimes and we’d sit and chat. It’s a very sad way to go.’’
By Monday night, all windows were boarded up on the small charred ranch house on Winter Street. The blaze had also caused the roof to collapse partially. The next morning, flowers and other mementos were being left in the yard.
Levy said there have been only two deaths in town from house fires during the last 10 years. Two years ago, a man was hurt in a bedroom fire involving an oxygen tank, an accident likely related to smoking. The man died a week later, Levy said. Ten years ago, a High Street fire took the life of a 21-year-old man.
According to Mieth, Anderson is the 11th person in Massachusetts to perish in a house fire in 2012. Deaths from house fires have been on the decline over the last 10 years, she said, falling to 25 in 2010 and 30 in 2009, the lowest numbers since World War II.
Last year, the number of house fire fatalities jumped to 40. The reason remains unknown. “We’re still looking at data to see why it spiked,’’ Mieth said.
Poirier said news of Anderson’s death has been “devastating.’’
“We went through everything together, from boyfriends to breakups,’’ Poirier said. “We weren’t just friends; we were family. Every time I see her house the way it is, it’s devastating.’’