A 97-year-old woman was found dead Tuesday morning in a burning house in the Catalina Foothills.

The woman, Larae Hambenne, lived in the home alone, said Deputy Courtney Rodriguez, a spokeswoman for the Pima County Sheriff’s Department.

She was a retired school counselor, according to a former colleague.

Fire crews went to the home in the 4400 block of East Ina Road, near North Swan Road, about 6:45 a.m. The 3,500-square-foot home was about 80 percent involved in smoke and flames when they arrived, said Capt. Grant Cesarek, spokesman for Rural/Metro Fire Department.

The fire was so big that smoke could be seen from the area of Davis-Monthan Air Force Base and 911 calls were coming in from midtown Tucson, Cesarek said.

Firefighters found Hambenne’s body while searching the home for occupants.

“Arson investigators came out, we did a standard investigation because there was fatality, and there wasn’t anything suspicious initially found,” Rodriguez said.

Rural/Metro Fire investigators could not determine the cause of the fire, and ruled it “undetermined,” Cesarek said, but they did pinpoint the origin of the fire to a family room.

The home did not have smoke detectors, he said. Wrought-iron bars covered the doors and windows, but they did not have safety release latches, and the doors had deadbolts that required a key to unlock from the inside.

Hambenne was a former counselor at Catalina High School.

Chet Parks worked at the school with Hambenne. They were both counselors at Catalina for more than 30 years, he said.

“She was a good one,” he said. “There were a lot of people who were real flip about what they were doing, but she was a caring person.

“As a counselor you do more than just get kids signed up for classes,” he said.

Hambenne took a personal interest in her students and helped them with personal problems, he said.

Parks was good friends with Hambenne and her husband, Joseph Hambenne, who taught sociology at the University of Arizona. He and the couple built a house in Guaymas, Sonora, that shared a common wall, and they would spend vacations in the Mexico resort area swimming, fishing and sailing.

“We just had a heck of a good time,” Parks said.

Joseph Hambenne died in 1989. The couple had one son, who could not be reached by telephone Tuesday afternoon.

Contact reporter Kimberly Matas at kmatas@azstarnet.com or at 573-4191.