Fire in an Oakdale townhouse before dawn Tuesday killed a longtime elementary school teacher for the Stillwater School District, authorities said.

The blaze struck the home in the 7000 block of 19th Street about 5 a.m., according to police. Fire crews arrived, saw smoke coming from the windows and quickly extinguished the flames.

The victim, Catherine A. Weschcke, had been teaching at Rutherford Elementary School since 2005 and was on a leave of absence starting with this school year, said district spokeswoman Carissa Keister.

Weschcke was found in bed and was dead at the scene, police said. There is no immediate word on how the fire started.

Weschcke joined the district at the start of the 1988-89 school year, Keister said. Weschcke served as a media specialist, a teacher of fifth and sixth grades and an interventionist.

In addition to Rutherford, she worked at Andersen, Stonebridge and Lake Elmo elementaries in the Stillwater district.

Staff members at Rutherford and the other schools where Weschcke worked were notified of her death within hours, and a note was being sent to Rutherford families Tuesday from Principal Heather Nelson.

"The Rutherford community has a very heavy heart today after learning of the tragic death of former teacher Catherine Weschcke," Nelson said in a statement. "Catherine worked hard to help support students in their desire to grow and learn. Over the past 25 years, she touched many students' lives with her dedication and her ability to relate to students with humor, care and concern. She will be deeply missed by all who knew her."