Whately house fire claims two of Golonka family
Officials say cause connected to wood stove
Whately Fire Department Captain Wayne Hutkoski douses smoldering debris at 6 State Road, the scene of a late-night fire that killed 94-year-old Mary Golonka and her daughter, Sonia Golonka, Wednesday night. Recorder/Trish Crapo
Wreckage at 6 State Road in Whately was still smoldering late Thursday morning after a late-night fire destroyed the back portion of the house and killed 94-year-old Mary Golonka and her daughter, Sonia Golonka, Wednesday night.
WHATELY — Sonia Golonka spent her final moments trying to rescue her 94-year-old mother from deadly black smoke and heat that had been filling their farmhouse as they slept.
The 64-year-old daughter, asleep on the second floor of the 6 State Road house, had been awakened by a smoke detector and called 9-1-1 before going to her mother Mary’s room on the first floor sometime after 11 p.m. Wednesday.
But heartbroken firefighters from Whately and South Deerfield found the two long-time residents on the floor of Mary’s bedroom, victims of a fire that started with a malfunctioning wood-burning heater.
This was the first fatal fire in town in at least 40 years.
“I wish we could do more, but there’s nothing you can do about it,” Assistant Fire Chief Keith Bardwell said Thursday morning as he surveyed the burned house frame. “You make the best of it when you get here. I would have been happy to get here and been able to give my jacket to one of the women to keep warm.”
According to Whately fire officials, the women died of heat and smoke inhalation trying to escape the flames.
State Fire Marshal Stephen D. Coan and Whately Fire Chief John S. Hannum said the cause of the fire was a malfunctioning fireplace.
According to a release issued by the two fire officials, the fire started underneath the floor of an old prefabricated fireplace to which a wood stove had been connected.
“Over time, the fireproof brick had cracked and the metal fireplace rusted and decayed, the release stated. “This allowed heat and possibly sparks from the wood stove and fireplace to come in contact with structural members.”
In his 40 years on the Fire Department, Hannum said, “I don’t ever remember a fatal fire in Whately.”
The two victims were members of the popular farm family, known for their delicious sweet corn and local produce sold from a farmstand near the house. The fire and the family’s loss sent a wave of shock and sadness throughout the small close-knit farm town.
Mary Golonka had started Golonka Farm in 1956 with her husband, Bernard, producing only cucumbers at first. Her youngest son, James Golonka and his wife, Jan, later expanded the farm, harvesting one of the Pioneer Valley’s favorite sweet corns. James’ sister, Sonia, steadfastly ran the small wooden farm stand next door to the burned home.
According to Hannum, smoke detectors woke Sonia Golonka to flames and smoke on the first floor of her home. After calling 9-1-1, the younger woman went to save her mother, he said. At 11:30 p.m., Whately firefighters responded to the home, where they found a backyard shed and the kitchen at the back of the house engulfed in flames with smoke escaping from the edge of the roof.
“Once we got here, we started knocking it down quickly. We made an interior attack and saved the main structure,” said Whately Deputy Fire Chief Keith Bardwell.
On Thursday morning, the back half of the two-story home had turned to ash. The windows were gutted, with the blue shutters hanging loosely. The fire had spread throughout the first floor, sending thick smoke and flames up to the attic. The surrounding homes and Golonka farm stand were untouched.
After making a call for mutual aid, the Whately firefighters were joined by units from Hatfield, Conway, Williamsburg, South Deerfield, Sunderland and Northampton. In all, there were 68 firefighters on scene. It took two to three hours to put the fire out. No firefighters were injured. State Police and the Whately Fire Department investigated the fire.
You can reach Kathleen McKiernan at:
or 413-772-0261 ext. 268.