Dianne Casas

Dianne Casas

Children's book author Dianne Casas could hardly have had more to look forward to.

Her teenage, celebrity-chef daughter was preparing to release her fourth cookbook in the fall, a project Casas' older daughter was editing and designing. A family trip to the beach in Gulf Shores, Alabama, loomed.

But Casas' loved ones were left facing a grim reality Tuesday: The 47-year-old mother was dead following a fire at her Harvey home, and she would never see the fruit of her daughters' labor nor spend time with them again.

Firefighters responding to a two-alarm blaze at Casas' home in the 2300 block of Hampton Drive about 6:30 p.m. Monday pulled her out and took her to West Jefferson Medical Center. She was pronounced dead within the hour.

While authorities said they don't suspect foul play, Casas' cause of death wasn't immediately available, pending an autopsy.

She was alone in the house when the fire broke out. 

There was little information about what may have sparked the blaze. Investigators haven't been able to rule out any potential causes, Louisiana State Fire Marshal's Office Chief Deputy Brant Thompson said.

But Casas' family was clear: Her death was a tragic mishap. 

"She had her hands full with her career, with her children," said Casas' brother, Gary James. "It's such a fog right now — everything happened so quickly."

According to her relatives, Casas was on a phone call with her two daughters and her boyfriend, John Couret, when the line went dead. Neither Couret nor her daughters could get Casas back on the line when Couret received a frightening text message.

The message read something like, "The room is burning. Help," said Casas' 27-year-old daughter, Soleil.

When they entered the home after the fire, James said, family members found the window to her bathroom open, indicating she had made a last-ditch attempt to escape the blaze or at least try to get air.

James added that it wouldn't have taken much smoke for Casas to be overcome. She had severe asthma and once had to be rushed to the emergency room because of smoke from fireworks, he said.

In any event, Casas' relatives on Tuesday remembered her as a mother who was devoted to her two daughters and her craft.

Soleil said she and her younger sister, Eliana, were both little when they realized what they wanted to be when they grew up.

Soleil liked art and drawing, and she landed a graphic design post at a publishing and public speaking company that Casas and Couret formed last year.

Meanwhile, Eliana fell in love with cooking.

Casas guided Eliana as she published three cookbooks and was at the girl's side when she won the Food Network's "Chopped Teen Tournament" last year. She recently accompanied Eliana to New York when the girl filmed an episode of the children's variety show "Wonderama." And the two had just gone to Miami to look at colleges, said Antonio Casas, Casas' ex-husband.

Antonio Casas said the plan now is for Eliana, a senior at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, to live with him.

The proud mother also made a name for herself. Writing under the last name "de las Casas," she won awards as she authored more than 20 children's books and professional development volumes geared toward teachers and librarians.

Her first children's book, "The Cajun Cornbread Boy," used Louisiana elements — such as cayenne pepper and a bayou — to retell the classic tale of "The Gingerbread Boy."

One of her works outlines techniques that educators can use to tell engaging Halloween-themed stories to students, and she traveled to countries such as the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Guam to speak about her work, James said.

"It showed in her work — she loved sharing, and she lived her life with an open heart," Soleil Casas said. "She created out of a place of passion and love for what she was doing, and that's what she was helping others do, too."

Follow Ramon Antonio Vargas on Twitter, @RVargasAdvocate.

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