It was around 9 a.m. Monday when three firefighters clothed in white coveralls and with helmets perched on their heads placed two figures draped in white sheets into the back of a white van parked on Oakland Avenue.
The van soon rolled past two fire engines before slowing down at a police barricade at the end of the street. A police SUV slowly reversed, allowing the van to turn onto Halifax Street. Two people died in blaze that erupted hours earlier at a single-story home at 18 Oakland Ave., report Danville Fire Department officials.
Both bodies were sent to the state medical examiner’s office for a positive identification, the fire department reports.
“It was a man and woman who lived by themselves,” said Sandra Ragland, a neighbor who lived across the road from the home. “They were good neighbors.”
The smell of burned wood filled the air. Charred wood beams, a white brick-and-cinder-block foundation and blackened sheets of twisted metal strewn along the lawn are all that is left to show a house once stood on the lot.
Shelby Irving, fire marshal with the Danville Fire Department, and lead investigator of the case, explained fire officials received a call about the fire at 3:58 a.m.
“Somebody was riding down South Boston Road and saw it,” she said. “The battalion chief said he could see the glow all the way from the station.”
Firefighters arrived to see a house so engulfed in flames they could not immediately enter to search for survivors or battle the blaze from within. Fire crews remained at the scene for six hours, the fire department reported. The cause of the fire is still under investigation by the fire marshal’s office and the Danville Police Department.
First responders learned from Ragland and other neighbors that there were two people inside the home.
“I kept saying ‘Where are they?’ I kept telling them there was a man and woman who lived in there,” she said. “I watched the entire house burn down, and I never watched them come out.”
Terry Daniel, another neighbor and Ragland’s son, described the people who lived there as quiet people who he never really knew too well.
“We lived out here, probably about a year,” he said. “I seen them and spoke to them a couple times ... we would see them and wave.”
They didn’t know their neighbors full names, though Ragland called the woman Donna.
One thing that Daniel did remember about the two was that they constantly burned wood at night to keep warm.
“I know they burnt a lot of wood,” he said. “I’m guessing that might’ve been what got them.”
The man recently learned from his landlord, who also lives on the street, how to properly burn wood, Ragland explained.
“He wasn’t familiar with making a fire, so the landlord taught him how,” she said. “I’m thinking the wood stove is what caused the fire, they were burning wood in there.”
Ragland witnessed the bodies of both victims when they were carried outside the home.
“I watched them lay the white bags down, and I knew it was them,” she said. “I think the first body was her, the bigger, taller, body was his. He was a big tall man, about 6 feet.”
Daniel also saw the victims being carried from the home. He is still in disbelief about the whole incident.
“It’s crazy because I just saw them yesterday,” he said, shaking his head and his gaze drifting off to the firefighters stowing away their gear.
Avent is a reporter with the Danville Register & Bee. Reach him at (434) 797-7983.