2 found dead inside burning Fineview home

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PITTSBURGH —

Fire officials have confirmed that two women were found dead inside a home that caught fire Wednesday in Pittsburgh’s Fineview neighborhood. 

The blaze was first reported just before 7 a.m. on Belleau Street and spread to two neighboring houses.

Emergency responders said several fire companies were at the scene battling the fast-moving flames. It took crews about an hour to get the blaze under control

Authorities have not released the names of the women, who lived in the home and were friends. One woman was found in a chair, the other in a bathroom, both on the third floor of the home.

Pam Johnston, who lives down the street, was getting ready to leave for work when she looked outside and saw what she thought was fog. Then she smelled smoke.

“I started ringing doorbells and screaming to get out,” she said. “It went up too fast.”

Neighbor Richard Cramer said he was at work when someone called to tell him his home was one of those damaged.

He said he knew something was wrong when he text messaged one of the women and she didn’t respond.

“It was unusual because I normally hear from her when I text her,” Cramer said.

He said he knew the victims and considered them friends.

“They were great neighbors. They took care of my animals when I was at work,” Cramer said. “I’m kind of numb about it I guess.”

Cramer said the women loved animals and took his two West Highland Terriers for a walk every morning. 

Marcia Kraus told Channel 11’s Jennifer Tomazic she was friends with the victims -- Cathy Arkus and Judy Rassias.

“They were amazing. They would do anything for anyone,” Kraus said.

According to Kraus, she’s known the women for 20 years. She said Arkus moved in with Rassias a few years ago when she lost her house.

“They both took care of each other and took care of the rest of us when needed,” Kraus said.

Firefighters told Tomazic they suspect careless smoking in a second-floor bedroom may have caused the blaze.