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Across the street from us is Linda, our cat-lady neighbor, and next to her is an empty lot where an abandoned house was torn down some years ago. The deer like to hang out there, mostly ignoring those who walk by. On the other side of the lot is (was) a house with various tenants over the years.

A few weeks ago, late at night, we heard a band or bump of sorts, figuring it was Hazel crashing around in my office upstairs. Merry went to check, but as she exited the livingroom, we heard voices yelling, whereby I thought it might be a domestic. Before going up the stairs, she looked out the foyer window and then realized it was a house fire. The yelling was a new neighbor trying to warn Linda apparently. I ran outside to see the front of the house next to the empty lot ablaze. I walked to the front, and it felt like being too close to a campfire, but all over my body. I didn’t see the wire above me sparking, but Mer yelled to get away.

The woman from the first floor was apparently taken across the street and an older gentlemen who lived on the second floor was crying “my kids are in there”. It didn’t register that they were adult children right away — my mind was a blur. I ran to the side door and hear a voice calling out for someone. The stairwell was completely unlit, so I yelled for Mer to get my Mag light. I was going to try and light the way for them, but also might have done something I now realize would have been fatal by going in after them. The reason I didn’t? For the first time ever, the batteries were dead.

Apparently what happened was the woman had a candle knocked over by her dog. My guess is this is code for her falling asleep with a lit cigarette next to her oxygen tank. The man upstairs was made it out somehow, but his 40-year-old son supposedly claimed over the front porch railing to get to the woman and drag her out, since she was still looking for her dog. There were reports of a dog running toward the park that night, but it may have died in the fire. But it didn’t end there. The son went back into the house to look for his 30-year-old brother who lived in a separate attic apartment. This is what I heard — him calling out. His brother either during this time or before this escaped by jumping, with his cat, out the attic window onto the garage in the backyard. This shattered his pelvis, but he was conscious when he was taken away. His cat was found and is being cared for by a neighbor.

But the brother who went looking for him didn’t come out until the firefighters found him. On the lawn across the street (one time moving him farther away as the heat grew), they performed CPR for about 45 minutes. A bunch of responders took turns and his body flopped as they worked. It was gruesome.

After an investigation, and the removal of some personal items (including an urn of someone from the woman’s family), the house was torn down, and the foundation was removed and filled in. A memorial of various items still sits there, displaced temporarily during the demolition. A service with candles was held, and both friends, family, spectators, and news crews drove past or congregated there for days. I never really knew any of them by name, but it still really hit us, as it did with all the neighbors. And we couldn’t decide if it was worse seeing the burnt-out hulk or an empty (now double) lot. We agree the lot is better, but it’s still just so strange.