Coatesville police today arrested a 22-year-old man and charged him with homicide in the death of an 83-year-old woman in a house fire.

George Donkewicz, of the 1000 block of Lafayette Street, Coatesville, was charged with criminal homicide, murder and aggravated assault, police announced.

Irene Kempest, a widow, died yesterday in a fire at her home on the unit block of Strode Avenue in the city's West End section. The fire was the latest in a string of arsons in that section.

At 4:19 this morning, Coatesville police responded to a fire on the same block of Strode Avenue. An investigation linked Donkewicz to that fire, and he was taken into custody around 5 a.m. in the 500 block of W. Lincoln Highway, police said.

Donkewicz also was charged with two counts each of arson and related charges, causing or risking catastrophe and criminal mischief; and four counts of recklessly endangering another person.

Donkewicz was cooperating with police in solving the other suspected arson-related fires, authorities said.

A call about a fire at Kempest's home came in around 12:20 a.m. Sunday, Coatesville Fire Chief Kevin Johnson said.

"Personnel showed up and found heavy fire conditions," he said. "They started a search and found [Kempest] upstairs. They brought her out, and took her to Brandywine Hospital."

Johnson said Kempest was unconscious. She died the next day. The cause of death was smoke inhalation, Chester County Coroner Robert Satriale said.

Kempest was born in Poland, and brought to the city by the late Victor Tiscoglio, a Coatesville businessman, who hired her after she had returned to Poland from a German work camp, said her friend Paula Pennypacker.

Pennypacker said that Kempest and her late husband, Stanley, were longtime members of St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish.

"All of us are heartsick over this," said Pennypacker, who is also a member of the parish. "It's disheartening that we lost one of our own in such a horrible manner when we are getting ready to celebrate the birth of Christ and the Prince of Peace."

[]Johnson said that in the past year and a half, 10 to 15 fires had been deliberately set on the porches of homes in the West End, but until yesterday, there had been no injuries.

"Several have had significant damage," he said. "One home was totally destroyed."

But recently, the frequency of the fires started to accelerate, he said. During the last three days, there have been four fires, including the one that killed Kempest, he said.

Contact staff writer Nancy Petersen at 610-696-4932 or npetersen@phillynews.com.