The unmistakable stench of burned wood hung heavy in the air on Paradise Road, in Paradise, Wednesday afternoon.
The smell was such that hours afterward it lingered on the tip of the senses of those who had gathered on the busy stretch of suburban road.
They had assembled out of curiosity. Watchers are a common sight at house fires and Wednesday was no different.
The day’s victim was a small bungalow, beige with green shutters on the windows — at least what was left of the windows.
By the time reporters arrived at the home, the windows had all been shattered by firefighters, what was left of the front door hung on its hinges, and the rear step and roof had been charred black by flames.
The building was still smouldering behind Supt. Derek Chafe as he spoke with the media on the front lawn of a house across the street.
Whatever caused the fire was still unknown and is under investigation, Chafe said, but fortunately the two people inside at the time got out unharmed.
Chafe also described a hellish scene when firefighters first reached the house.
“When we arrived, there was heavy smoke coming from the rear of the home and out through the front,” he said.
“Crews entered the home, found a lot of fire inside. We knocked down the fire and got it under control and right now we’re going through the residence to make sure all the fire is out.”
When a reporter remarked on the alarming amount of smoke still coming from the windows, Chafe explained the fire was still smouldering in the walls and ceiling of the bungalow.
His firefighters were opening up these areas to expose the fire, he said.
Behind him, the muffled roar of a chainsaw could be heard from somewhere inside the pitch-black interior of the house.
Chafe had nothing more to report so he thanked the media and moved off quickly, joining a group a firefighters milling about in front of the home.
Some of the firefighters looked relatively unscathed. Others, who obviously had been working inside the house, were covered head to toe in white foam, nasty looking charcoal marks and sodden bits of home insulation.
As the grunt work tapered off the men lined up behind the house to get hosed off before changing out of their filthy gear.
Just up the road amidst the various fire trucks and RNC vehicles were two people with worried and bewildered looks on their faces, watching the firefighters finish their work.
Asked if they’d seen what happened, they said, nearly in unison, “we were inside.”
The people are Rick Randell, and Carmen Turner. Both are renters in the home.
As firefighters continued to work inside, Randell said it was hard to believe that less than an hour before he had been sitting in his basement listening to music.
Just before 2 p.m. Randell turned off the music and joined Turner in the upstairs living room to watch T.V.
Less than five minutes later the smoke detector started blaring.
“The first door I opened I saw the fire in the first bedroom, on that side, on the corner,” he said, gesturing to the rear of the home.
Randell said he tried to put out the blaze himself but it was no use.
“I thought I could extinguish the fire with a bucket, but I couldn’t. It just went right ablaze. So I got everything I could. I got her out basically,” he said.
“It was five minutes,” Turner added.
Once outside Randell ran for his shop and grabbed a fire extinguisher. More were rushed to the scene by neighbours, but to no avail.
“I tried four fire extinguishers on the fire after I got out of the house. Didn’t do nothing,” he said dejectedly.
Three cats, including two kittens, were lost in the fire.
“I tried to get the cats, but I couldn’t,” Randell said. “I went in three times, as you can see my hair (pointing to his singed head).
“Couldn’t get them,” he said, shaking his head.
Standing next to him, Turner’s eyes welled up as he talked about the animals.
Both estimate they’ve lost thousands of dollars worth of possessions, including all their furniture.
Randell’s tools alone are worth about $5,000, he said.
But even with the loss of the pets and possessions, they are still just happy to be alive.
Randell considers what happened a fair trade for their lives.
“We’re happy we’re alive,” he said.
“You break even, you break even b’y — that’s all you can do.”
The article has been edited for typographical errors.