Fatal Eveleth House Fire Victim Identified, Neighborhood Mourns

77-year-old Bonnie Mae Phinney was trapped in the house as it burned to the ground.

EVELETH, Minn.- The identity of a 77-year-old woman who died in a house fire in Eveleth Tuesday morning has been released.

Several area fire departments responded to a structure fire on North Court, after a woman called saying she was unable to get out.

“Me and my wife were talking about when the reports were coming in that her body was in there–I couldn’t imagine where she would’ve gotten trapped. I mean she had an exit door in the front and the back.” said Joshua Villarreal, who lives next door.

That woman was 77-year-old Bonnie Mae Phinney.

“It was very sad,” neighbor Howard Ressler said. “I wish I could’ve realized all the commotion that was going on outside of my house, I might’ve been able to call earlier or help in some way.”

According to fire officials, the flames, heavy smoke and extreme heat kept emergency personnel from getting into the house.

“But by the reactions of the police it sounded like they knew she was,” said Villarreal. “One of them cursed really loudly and I looked, he seemed really distressed and then, and paramedics said ‘We gotta call it, there’s no way that anybody can safely get anybody out of there.'”

Unfortunately Bonnie Mae died inside as the house burned, and the neighborhood grieved, Villarreal said.

“It was terrible to actually realize. My wife started crying, I started crying a little bit too, even though we didn’t know her that well.”

Living next door to Phinney, Villarreal said she was a nice woman who always spoke to them when they were outside.

“She was really nice,” he said. “I remember when I first talked to her she had a really nice smile and stuff. She said she was glad to hear somebody nice moved in next door.”

Even those who didn’t regularly interact with Phinney still smiled whenever they saw her out working on her garden.

“Driving through the alley here I would see her tending to her flowers,” said Ressler. “Which I thought was kinda cool at her age planting flowers every summer.”

And according to Villarreal, that was a part of Phinney’s general love of nature.

“She used to love feeding the birds and squirrels and chipmunks and stuff in her yard. She had an apple tree, she let kinda some of the apples stay on the ground for them and stuff. So she loved to care about stuff like that.”

They say Bonnie Mae’s family and other neighbors regularly stopped by to take care of her, showing she was well loved.

“She was an asset to the community,” Ressler said.

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