A "tremendous amount of clutter" prevented firefighters from reaching an 82-year-old who died in a house fire Monday in New York City. Firefighters responded to the blaze at the two-story home in Jamaica, Queens, around 6:30pm but encountered items "piled three to four feet high and throughout," an official tells People. "It was normal household items that people might gather," from bedding to newspapers, as well as garbage, he adds. Described by neighbors as a "classic hoarder," Audrey Hebling could be heard calling out for help. "She was saying, 'I'm here'—just like a very frail voice," a neighbor tells the New York Daily News.
She was eventually dragged from the kitchen "but unfortunately she succumbed," FDNY Deputy Chief Steven Kubler tells the New York Post. A tragic death was the end to a "magic" life, per the Daily News. Dreaming of life as a runway model, Hebling modeled for advertisements in her youth before earning her doctorate at Adelphi University. She later joined Sperry Gyroscope Corp, building satellites for NASA, but was eventually called to teaching. At Long Island's Lutheran High School, the woman affectionately known as "Doc" taught physics and boogied with students at prom. "How many times do you ask people, 'Are you a rocket scientist?' And she really was one," says a school clerk. Eight firefighters were reportedly injured trying to extinguish her home, two seriously. (Read more fire stories.)