Chris Corso holds a portrait of his late mother, Marie Zielinski, and other family members.

By Donald Wittkowski

Chris Corso paused for a moment to compose himself before he spoke about the affection that the community had for his 89-year-old mother, Marie Zielinski.

“Everyone who knew my mother, loved my mother,” he said.

But mainly, Corso focused on the love that his mother had for her three children and three grandchildren.

“She loved and lived for her family. She truly showed that every day of her life,” he said.

The Corso family is mourning the death of Zielinski, who was identified as the victim of a raging multi-alarm fire Thursday in Sea Isle City that destroyed her duplex on 54th Street and badly damaged two adjacent houses.

The family’s 2-year-old mixed-breed dog, Manu, was also killed.

An excavator demolishes the charred rubble of the duplex where Marie Zielinski had lived on 54th Street. To the left is another duplex that was severely damaged in the fire.

Elizabeth Coleman, 56, and Roy Lombardo, 60, who shared the other side of the duplex where Zielinski lived at 29 54th Street, were transported to the Cape Regional Medical Center for treatment of their injuries in the fire. Lombardo has since been released, but Coleman was transferred to Cooper Medical Center, where she is still being treated, authorities said.

Authorities said the wind-whipped fire started in the duplex where Zielinski lived and quickly spread to two adjacent duplexes. The other duplexes were unoccupied when the blaze broke out around 11:30 a.m. Thursday.

Sea Isle Police Chief Tom McQuillen said investigators have not yet determined what caused the fire, but there are no signs it is suspicious.

“There’s nothing at this point that leads us to believe it’s anything other than a terrible tragedy,” he told reporters Friday.

Video of fire scene

Detectives from the Cape May County Prosecutor’s Office, Sea Isle City Police Department and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and members of the Cape May County and New Jersey State Fire Marshal’s Office are investigating the cause.

McQuillen said authorities are asking members of the public to assist them in the investigation by sharing any videos or photos they make have taken during the early stages of the fire. They are urged to contact the Cape May County Prosecutor’s Office at 609-465-1135 or the Sea Isle City Police Department at 609-263-4311. They may also text anonymously through the Cape May County Sheriff’s Tip Line at and click on the anonymous tip.

“We’re trying to construct as thorough an investigation as we can,” McQuillen said of the request for video and photos.

Investigators discovered Zielinski’s body on her side of the duplex Friday while combing through the rubble. Most of the house burned to the ground. As the acrid smell of smoke hung in the air, an excavator began demolishing the charred remains.

A fire truck stands guard in front of a scorched three-story duplex at the corner of 54th Street and Landis Avenue.

The two duplexes on either side of Zielinski’s house were severely damaged by smoke and fire. McQuillen said it will be up to insurance investigators to determine whether those duplexes are a total loss.

Members of the Corso family shared the duplex where Zielinski lived. Chris Corso, 53, said his mother previously had lived at his house at 55th Street and Landis Avenue, but moved to the duplex because there were more family members to help take care of her as she struggled with her hearing loss.

Corso emphasized that his mother remained active and tried to spend as much time as possible with her children and grandchildren.

“My mother was a wonderful person,” he said. “She lived for her family.”

McQuillen noted that Zielinski was known in Sea Isle as a “good, wholesome lady.”

“She was a nice lady, and had a nice family. It’s a sad day,” he said.

In comments to the media, Sea Isle Police Chief Tom McQuillen noted Marie Zielinski was known in the community as a “good, wholesome lady.”

Zielinki’s involvement in the community included membership in Sea Isle’s AARP chapter. Frank Roach, president of the AARP, paid tribute to Zielinski by writing in an email to the chapter members that with her death, “a golden heart stopped beating.”

“I know that Marie would like to leave an echo whispering softly down the ways, of Happy Times and Laughing Times and Bright and Sunny Days,” Roach wrote.