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2 Die Leaping from Manhattan Fire

December 17, 1997

NEW YORK (AP) _ Fire swept through a mansion on Manhattan’s Upper East Side early today, killing two women who jumped from a fifth-story balcony.

The 60-year-old woman of the house had heroically gone back inside twice to help people get out, Fire Commissioner Thomas Von Essen said. She died along with a houseguest when the fire drove them up to the balcony on the top floor.

``There was a tremendous amount of fire,″ Von Essen said. ``It had to be like an oven up there.″

He said firefighters with hoses had almost reached them.

``I guess they just panicked and jumped,″ the commissioner said.

The blaze caused extensive damage to the 116-year-old townhouse’s second, third and fourth floors, officials said.

Officials and friends at the scene said Catalina Meyer died, along with a houseguest whose name was not immediately released. Mrs. Meyer’s husband, Alvin, another female houseguest and three domestic employees, a man and two women, escaped uninjured.

``There were Christmas lights installed yesterday. They were brought in through the window, and we found a short in that line. Because of the crimp in the line, that’s what started the fire,″ Von Essen said.

He said a water connection for the house’s sprinkler system was not turned on.

Family friends who came to the site this morning said the dead woman was generous with charity.

Phyllis Keitlen said ``Kitty″ Meyer had been ``one of the first women on Wall Street,″ but more recently ran a custom jewelry catalog business.

``She would support anybody that needed it,″ said another friend, Anna Maria Tornaghi. ``She lent her house for charity events, helped up and coming artists.″

The house’s walls were hung with the works of Roy Lichtenstein, Larry Rivers and other modern artists.

About 80 firefighters brought the fire under control around 5:30 a.m. Four suffered minor injuries, said fire department spokesman Michael Regan.

A real estate broker, Robert Haberman, said the house was up for sale and was worth $10 million to $15 million.

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