Eileen Ryan recently underwent surgery. She is still recovering and regaining her strength. On Friday morning, she was in a deep sleep when awakened by a neighbor yelling and banging on her door.
“It was hard getting out. The house was filled with smoke,” she said from an aluminum lawn chair on Huron Street in Oakland Beach.
Yellow fire hoses ran down the middle of the road and, barely a block away, two firefighters were on the roof of her burning house. One was using a saw to cut through the roof and expose the fire that curled from the peak of the two-story building.
Eileen, wrapped in a blanket, watched. Beside her was her daughter, Catherine Foss, and her 2-year-old granddaughter Rachel. Rachel wore a jacket that was far too big for her. It hung over her. Both of them were in the house with two other family members.
“I grabbed her and ran out of the house,” said Catherine, gesturing toward the 2-year-old.
Rachel stood motionless watching the firefighters. Someone in the group of family and neighbors knelt down beside her with a fresh bag of popcorn.
“Rachel, look what we have.”
The girl, huddled in her oversized coat, reached a hand into the bag as Eileen was taking a mental count of the occupants. What about the parakeets? In the rush to get out, she didn’t think they had been saved. And then there was one of the two dogs; had anyone seen it, had it been caught inside?
“We just haven’t seen it. It could have gotten out and run,” suggested a neighbor. “The important thing is that you got the family out.”
Periodically, there was the screeching beeping of a fire alarm coming from the house.
“There they go,” said Eileen.
She remembered replacing the batteries in the last couple of months. There were three alarms in the house and, to Catherine’s recollection, one of them was yelling as they left the house but she couldn’t be sure.
There seemed to be little doubt as to the cause of the fire. Both Eileen and Catherine reported sparks flying and “loud popping” from the electrical lead to the house. The fire appeared to be most intense near the peak of the roof.
The Red Cross was at the scene, assured a neighbor.
“They’ll see that you have a place to stay.”
Eileen didn’t seem to hear what was being said. Another neighbor said she had plenty of room and offered to have her stay with her. Eileen was grateful.
Eileen watched; the blanket pulled tightly around her shoulders. This has been her home for 24 years. All of a sudden, it was a shamble, a nightmare.