Susan Price was talking on the phone Monday afternoon while gazing around her neighborhood. Roy Farmer, a neighbor and friend, was out using his leaf blower on the sidewalk.
She turned and looked again and saw fire coming out the front door of Farmer's home.
Price dialed 911 and ran toward Farmer's house, meeting neighbor Sue Benfield and her son, Chris, both headed in the same direction. They noticed Farmer's blower on the ground – still operating.
Price opened the front door but thick smoke drove her back. Chris Benfield tried unsuccessfully to get in a side door.
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All three were yelling for Farmer, 71. They got no answer.
“We couldn't do anything to get them out,” Benfield said. “It was horrible. My heart was breaking.”
Firefighters found Gloria “Chuck” Farmer, 71, dead in the living room, where investigators said the fire appeared to be most intense.
Roy Farmer was found near the side door. He apparently had been overcome by smoke returning to the house for his wheelchair-bound wife.
He was taken to Gaston Memorial Hospital, where he died a short time later.
On Tuesday, as fire investigators searched for clues to a cause, neighbors remembered the Farmers and how quickly a normal afternoon turned tragic.
Sue Benfield, too, was on the phone talking to her sister and looking around the neighborhood, she said, when she spotted smoke near Farmer's residence. “I told my sister, Roy must be burning tires – that's how it smelled,” said Benfield, 70. “Then I yelled, ‘The house is on fire.'”
Farmer was no longer in the yard. Neighbors said he would have known his wife of 52 years Gloria “Chuck” Farmer, was in a wheelchair inside the house and couldn't escape.
“She was a very sweet lady. She got sick a couple of years ago,” Price said. “He never left her by herself for very long – maybe six or seven minutes when he'd run to the restaurant or grocery.”
Price considered Farmer a good neighbor always willing to help others if needed.
“I think he was a hero,” Price said. “He went back in that burning house to try and save his wife. There was no way you could have kept him out. No way.”