When Raylene Dominguez returned to her home Wednesday night, she dropped to her knees on the sidewalk and wept.
Dark, heavy smoke was billowing from the roof. Flames were shooting as high as 30 feet. Firefighters, police officers and neighbors sympathetically, but helplessly, looked on through the light from the flames."I want to go in the house and get my pictures," she screamed to disconcerted firefighters and paramedics, who placed the woman in an ambulance to try and calm her.
The distraught 28-year-old mother of three lost her husband, Ramon Dominguez, in an automobile accident in Salt Lake City in late September. Wednesday night she lost her home. Neighbors said the only pictures she had of her husband were still in the burning house.
Firefighters later recovered several family photographs yellowed from the flames in the scorched living room.
Investigators said the fire at 1203 Indiana Ave. (830 South) may have been set by burglars trying to cover up their tracks. "It's definitely suspicious," said Salt Lake Battalion Chief LaMont Epperson.
"That's all she wants is her pictures," said Linda Jennings, a neighbor who helped calm Dominguez. Jennings said the woman's three children were at their grandmother's house. No one was home at the time of the fire and no injuries were reported.
"There were a lot of flames on the roof," said another neighbor, Claire Warburton. "We weren't sure which house it was because it was right in the middle."
Epperson said the fire was extremely hot because the house was shut up tight and had been burning for a while before neighbors noticed and called the fire department. Flames rocketed into the air as firefighters cut holes in the roof to release the hot gases in the house that were "heated well above the ignition point."
"It was just like a flare gun going off," he said. "They were not igniting until 20 or 30 feet above the roof."
The battalion chief said the house fire was the third firefighters battled Wednesday within the same general area in Salt Lake City.
An 82-year-old man, Henry Dumas, was in serious but stable condition late Wednesday in the burn unit in University Hospital following a fire at his house at 1143 W. Pacific Ave. (440 South).
Richard Bernot, a neighbor across the street from Dumas, said he noticed the man sitting on his front porch as he returned home from work about 4:30 p.m. and waved to him. "I thought it was strange that he was sitting on his front porch," he said.
Bernot said he didn't realize the man's house was on fire until he heard a window break. "The window just broke and smoke came out and I realized there was a fire there and that's why he was on the porch."
The neighbor called firefighters, who arrived within minutes and transported Dumas to the hospital. A nursing supervisor said the man, who lives alone, suffered second- and third-degree burns over 20 percent of his body.
Battalion Chief Gordon Nicholl estimated damage at $30,000 and said the fire likely started from a cigarette on the couch. The living room and kitchen areas of the house were extensively damaged, he said.
Firefighters fought another house fire about 11:45 a.m. Wednesday at 261 S. 15th West. Epperson said the fire began in the kitchen where two children, who had stayed home from school because they were sick, were heating grease to make french fries. No one was injured, but damage was estimated at $10,000.
"In the wintertime we get more serious structure fires," Epperson said. "The reason being the homes are shut up tight." Overused and defective heating devices are also common causes for winter fires, he said.
Epperson said residents should check their homes for potential fire hazards such as faulty wiring and improper insulation. "Make sure that furnaces are clean, motors are oiled (and) you don't have plugged (furnace) filters."