An 83-year-old survivor of a World War II German work camp died Monday afternoon from injuries suffered when her home was intentionally set on fire early Sunday, authorities said.About 12:20 a.m. Sunday, someone set fire to the rear porch of Irene Kempest's home in the first block of Strode Avenue just hours after she had attended Mass at St. Stanislaus Kostka in the 200 block of West Lincoln Highway.
Kempest was temporarily trapped on the second floor until rescued by first responders. She was taken to Brandywine Hospital, where she died shortly after noon Monday, authorities said.
Kempest was born in Poland. When the Nazis occupied her country, she was sent to a work camp in Germany, where she was forced to stay until she was 15 and the camp was liberated, according to her pastor, John Oulds.
In Coatesville at that time, businessmen were recruiting Europeans to support the work force here. When Kempest learned of the opportunity, she immigrated to Coatesville and worked as a housekeeper, Oulds said.
On Dec. 2, 1950, Kempest married Lukens Steel worker Stanley Kempest at St. Stanislaus Kostka. They had one child, who lives in Philadelphia. For 25 years, Irene Kempest worked in the Pepperidge Farm frozen foods department.
Loved ones described her as "a caring and generous person often wearing a very broad smile," Oulds said.
In 2005, her husband died. Another of Irene Kempest's great loves was her 4-year-old great-granddaughter, who lived close by and would often visit for spaghetti dinners, Oulds said. She would also take her great-granddaughter on shopping trips.
She also attended church regularly and was at the 5 p.m. Mass, roughly seven hours before the fire.
"Irene was certainly known here at the parish and known here at the parish and very much a faithful and generous participant," Oulds said. "My last contact with Irene was just a few hours before this tragic occurrence."
Oulds said it was fitting Kempest died shortly after noon because the church's bells go off at the noon hour to ring a Catholic prayer followed by a hymn medley.
"While Irene was passing on from this life to the next, the bells at Irene's church rang," Oulds said.
A relative, who asked not to be identified, said Irene Kempest was a loving, active woman who enjoyed bingo games at local fire stations.
"She never hurt anybody," the relative said. "If you needed help she was always the first one to help ... She didn't hurt anybody, and she didn't deserve to die this way."
The relative called for the community to be more watchful.
"The people should be more observant, but a lot of people don't want to get involved," the relative said. "She passed away for whoever - person or persons - did this. I hope somebody catches them and they go away for a long time so they can't hurt anybody else."
Sunday's blaze was the city's fourth suspected arson in three days, adding to a string of intentionally set fires that have damaged homes, porches, garages and other structures this year.
City detectives, state police fire marshals and Chester County fire marshals are investigating what has turned into a homicide case. Authorities urge anyone with information regarding Sunday's fire to contact Coatesville police at 610-384-2300 or call 911.
Additionally, authorities are asking residents in the city's West End - where nearly all of the arsons have occurred - to remove any items from porches and leave front and rear porch lights on throughout the night. Typically the fires are set whenever it is dark - from 5 p.m. to the early morning hours.
The Coatesville Fire Department has also offered to install smoke detectors for city residents who need them. Those needing smoke detectors can call Washington Hose Fire Company at 610-384-9166.
Coatesville Fire Chief Kevin Johnson said Monday he hopes whoever is responsible will be caught soon.
"It's very unfortunate that we've had a fatality due to some-body's callousness, and I just hope we can have quick closure to the incident and arrest whoever is doing this," Johnson said.
A Crimestoppers reward had been offered for information leading to the arrest of whoever set fires this summer in Sadsbury and Coatesville. This summer, Pomeroy firefighter Robert Tribbett Jr., 24, of Sadsbury, was arrested for setting or attempting to set sfires in the Sadsbury area.