Retired teacher dies in northwest Fresno condo fire

FRESNO, Calif.

A passerby reported the smell of smoke near Barstow and Brawley. Piles of newspaper, boxes, and clothing in the entryway of the condo reveal part of the challenge faced by firefighters when they arrived at the scene. A neighbor said the woman who lived there had so much stuff, you couldn't see her furniture. "When she stopped teaching, she just sort of blocked herself off. She became very distant from us," said neighbor Lisa Gipson.

Despite the conditions inside the home, the initial response to the fire was also a challenge. Firefighters only received one call from a person driving through the area, who reported smelling smoke. No flames were visible from the outside of the home. "In weather like this, where the weather is changing, the smoke tends to lie down. It doesn't have a real good column to push up. That's kind of what happened here. There was a report from a driver that was coming southbound on Brawley," said Fresno Fire Captain Brian Price.

Seven minutes after the call, firefighters found the burning condo. Because of all the debris inside, searching was difficult. Gipson said her friend was a retired teacher in her late 50's who seemed to withdraw after retirement. "She was a very hard worker. Teaching was everything to her. Her life was her kids. And I think when she retired ... It was taken out from underneath her," said Gipson.

Fire investigators are still trying to determine the cause of the fire but a neighboring vacant unit wasn't damaged at all. Gipson says the victim lived alone and over twenty years, she saw her home go from cluttered to something much more alarming. "It's sad. We tried what we could. I didn't want to be intrusive," said Gipson.

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