The blaze took two structures, the house and a shed. The picture shows not only the depth, but the breadth of the devastation. (Jessica Palmer Photo)
A fire, originally reported as a brush fire that advanced dangerously close to a number of residences on Isler Road near Calumet Road, left one person dead. A body was found on a bed and has been sent to the Office of the Medical Investigator for identification and autopsy.
Chaves County Sheriff Office Chief Deputy Britt Snyder said the resident had last been seen walking back to her home at 3 p.m. The 911 call came in to dispatch at 3:13.
“Based on the information we have received, we think it was her; but we will not be able to release a name until we have positive identification from OMI.”
Snyder said the SO did not know the cause of the blaze. “The state fire marshal from Albuquerque is conducting the investigation.”
A little boy returning from school saw the smoke and called 911, fearful that it was his home that was on fire.
Neighbor Mary Sharpe was one of the first to notice the fire when she saw flames shooting out of the windows.
“I didn’t think twice. I grabbed my keys and drove over there. … I’ve never seen anything go up like that in my life.”
The intensity of the blaze was such that there are few recognizable remains of the structure or its contents, except the bed springs. Sgt. Mike Herrington, one of the first officials to arrive at the scene, said he saw the thick black smoke, but as he pulled up, the residence exploded.
According to neighbors, it took 30 minutes for the Berrendo and city fire departments to arrive. The reports of brush fire stem from the fact that the fire that originated in the house at 2400 Isler Road, came dangerously close to other residences. Neighbors had to douse their fences and yards to prevent the fire from spreading to other dwellings.
The fire burned electrical wires causing power outages to neighboring homes.
Sharpe explained that the house was little more than a shack.
“She had holes in her roof the size of a truck. She had no gas or water, only electricity. She went to my sister’s house to get water in gallon milk jugs.”
The resident refused to leave her residence of nearly 50 years. She’d lost her partner of many years and continued to live in the ramshackle residence alone.
“CYFD came out here a few times trying to get her to move, but she wouldn’t,” said Sharpe.
“A lady down the street was supposed to take her to an appointment this morning. She came here cried and cried when she learned.”
Crystal Castaneda said: “It’s kind of hard. I’ve known her all my life. My father’s been here for 47 years and she was living here when he came. … I’m 33.”
The woman walked to Walmart, a distance of about 2.5 miles, every day. She also walked to Lakota Baptist Church on Pine Lodge Road for Sunday worship.
Savannah Castaneda noted that the woman was a fixture upon the road. “You’d see her walking every day wearing that big purple hat.”
Both agreed with another neighbor’s assessment that the 78-year-old was “everyone’s grandmother.”
While she was a fixture on the road, she was also a bit of an enigma. “We always called her ‘Mrs. Swisher.’ Yesterday, we found out that that was not her last name,” said Crystal.
“It was horrible. You wanted to help, but there was nothing you could do. You couldn’t get close enough,” Crystal said.
The woman took care of stray cats, and Sharpe expressed concern about the cats and kittens that lived under her home. “I’m going over there today and see if I can find any of them and feed them.”