Caruthers High School secretary among 2 dead after truck crashes into home, igniting fire

CARUTHERS, Calif. (KFSN) -- Devastated neighbors described what happened when they tried to rescue a woman after a truck slammed into her Caruthers home, causing an instant inferno.

Michelle Willis died in the fire. She was a longtime member of the Caruthers community and worked at the high school.

The driver of the truck that hit the home also died. He has not been identified.

One of the questions lingering for investigators and neighbors is how the fire victim ended up in her front yard. Now, there is nothing left of this once beautiful 100-year-old home near West Avenue and Henderson Road. Sadly, Willis was alive when this began, but was unable to get out of the fire's path.

Neighbors say the desperate pleas for help from Willis have traumatized them forever. The sound of a truck crashing into her home jolted at least one neighbor awake, who went outside to see a small fire. She called 911 and alerted other neighbors, who also rushed to try and save Willis, but they couldn't reach her. Video shows the massive flames swallowing the historic home.

One witness, too upset to show his face, said it was a heart-wrenching and helpless scene. "It was like horrifying, you know? Not able to do something to help her. It was kind of shocking," he said.

Firefighters say the fire became out of control when the crash or aftermath ruptured a gas line. Neighbors told firefighters they were frightened by one explosion after another.

"In this case, the dominoes did kind of line up for a very dramatic and devastating scene," said Ryan Michaels with Cal Fire.

Investigators say the age of the home may have also caused it to burn faster. "That style of construction sometimes leads to the fire being able to spread quickly from one floor to the next because of the position of the stairwell there acting as a chimney introducing that stuff into the second floor," said Michaels.

Willis was a secretary at Caruthers High School. Students there said she always had a smile and great attitude. "I would see her when I went to the office because I used to be tardy a lot. She'd just be there and she'd smile and say 'good morning' and stuff," said student Vanessa Marin.

California Highway Patrol officers are trying to figure out what caused the crash. It's unclear right now how fast the driver was going at the time of impact.
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