Mother, son perish in Wisconsin house fire

Funeral services are set Feb. 1 for a 96-year-old Latvian woman and her 64-year-old son, both of whom died Jan. 28 in a fire that destroyed their home near rural Oostburg in southeastern Wisconsin.

Austra Legzdiņš and her son, Pēteris Zirnis, were the only people in the house at the time of the fire, according to Sheboygan County Sheriff’s Department. Zirnis would have turned 65 on Feb. 2.

A retired emergency medical technician reported the fire at about 9 a.m., telling an emergency dispatcher that the house was fully engulfed, according to local media reports. Firefighters from Oostburg and three other communities responded.

Although the cause of the fire is under investigation, authorities do not suspect foul play, according to media reports. The house was owned by Legzdiņš, Pēteris Zirnis and his brother, Juris Zirnis, according to Sheboygan County property records.

Zirnis’ wife was away babysitting grandchildren in Chicago, according to media reports.

Legzdiņš was born June 5, 1912, in Bulduri, Latvia. She attended high school and college in Latvia. Following the Second World War, she and her sons in 1950 immigrated to the United States. Legzdiņš worked for many years as a bookkeeper in the Chicago area.

Legzdiņš was a member of the St. Peter Latvian Lutheran Church (Latviešu evaņģēliski luteriskā Sv.Pētera draudze) in Wood Dale, Ill., and taught in the Latvian school. She is described as having been an avid art collector, enjoying reading, documenting family history and heritage, gardening, and home decorating.

She is survived by two sons, Andrejs (Rita) Jurevics of Latvia, and Juris (Ruta) Zirnis of Chicago; her daughter-in-law, Inta Zirnis of Oostburg; six grandchildren and nine great grandchildren. Legzdiņš was preceded in death by a grandson, three sisters and two brothers.

Pēteris Zirnis was born Feb. 2, 1944, in Strenči, Latvia, to the late Vilis and Austra Zirnis. He graduated in 1961 from Lane Technical High School in Chicago and attended several art schools. From 1963-1966, he served in the U.S. Army. Zirnis married Inta Baltmanis in 1966 in Chicago.

Zirnis worked as a commercial artist for the Sears Roebuck Co. for 22 years. For the past 10 years he worked at Ongna Wood Products in Oostburg. He is described as having enjoyed painting, sketching, wood carving, collecting old weapons, reading, history, basketball, cooking and gardening.

He is survived by his wife, Inta of Oostburg; one daughter, Solveiga (David) Brunovskis of St. Charles, Ill.; one son, Nikolas Zirnis of Oak Park, Ill.; three grandchildren, Krišs, Sabīne, and Miķelis Brunovskis; and his brothers, Andrejs and Juris.

Funeral services for Legzdiņš and Zirnis are scheduled at 3 p.m. Feb. 1 at the Wenig Funeral Home, 108 Center Ave., Oostburg. Friends may call at the funeral home from 1-3 p.m. Additional services are planned later in Chicago, according to the Wenig Funeral Home.

Online condolences may be sent to

A memorial fund is being established in their names to further promote Latvian heritage and culture.

Andris Straumanis is a special correspondent for and a co-founder of Latvians Online. From 2000–2012 he was editor of the website.

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