West Chester University student Sara Ochsenreither died Feb. 8 in a fire in East Caln. The fire occurred in a townhouse development and Ochsenreither was the only victim. Six town-houses were destroyed in the fire and icy conditions made it difficult for firefighters to get into the buildings.Approximately 100 fire-fighters and emergency response personnel responded to the 3:19 a.m. fire. As 10-foot flames ravaged the buildings, firefighters struggled to enter the buildings until around 9 a.m. A 16-foot hole in the floorboards kept firefighters from reaching Ochsenreither.
According to Chester County Coroner Roger Rothenberger, Ochsenreither died of smoke inhalation. Rothenberger told The Daily Local News, “The smoke probably overcame her. The smoke and smoke inhalation was what hindered her from being able to exit the house.”
The cause of the fire is still unknown. State Police Fire Marshal Trooper James DeWalt explained to The Daily Local News that “there’s not a whole lot I can release.”
Ochsenreither, a senior management major, had just celebrated her 23 birthday two days prior to the disaster. One of her best friends, Sarah Piccone had graduated with Ochsenreither from Downingtown High School in 1999. Piccone had helped celebrate Ochsenreither birthday on Friday with a night on the town in West Chester.
“The last moment I had with her, we told each other that we loved each other, Piccone told The Daily Local News. “She was the type of person who would always let you know you’re cared for.”
High School friend Tara McAteer said that Ochsenreither was like a sister to her. She told The Daily Local News, “[Sara] was always into having fun at the moment.”
As family and friends mourn the loss, so does the University community. Professor Ralph Rodriguez was saddened by the news and described Ochsenreither to The Daily Local News as “a split-hair away from absolutely perfect. She was a beautiful little blond-haired girl. Her smile was just about as sunny as her hair. She was really one of those sunshiny-people.