FRUITVALE -- Sifting through ashes, family and friends tried to comprehend the tragic house fire Tuesday morning that claimed the life of 41-year-old Wendy Harris life and injured her 14-year-old daughter.
Arranging a pile of charred photos beside the smoldering remains of the home in the 300 block of County Road 1129, Donna Taylor said her family has suffered incomprehensible tragedy this year.
"The poor children. They lost their father three months ago to the date. ... And now this," Mrs. Taylor, a cousin to the family, said. Family members said he suffered a prolonged illness.
She said loved ones were going to salvage what they could and then travel to Parkland Hospital in Dallas to see Presley, the 14-year-old injured in the fire.
Mrs. Taylor and others collected the photos and erected a wooden cross to remember Mrs. Harris, whose death shocked this community of about 400 residents north of Canton.
"They lost everything they have in the fire. Only things we have been able to salvage are a few photos and a couple of her cast iron pans," she said.
Chris Whitaker and Alan Wheeler fabricated the cross and wrote the words "RIP Wendy, Fly High" on the wooden symbol.
"She is flying high now with her husband ... We may not understand this, but God is in control," Whitaker said.
Van Zandt County Fire Marshal Chuck Allen said firefighters responded about 12:35 a.m. to a report of a woman trapped inside a structure fire.
"Upon arrival of fire departments, they found a single-wide mobile home fully involved with fire," he said.
Allen said five people, including Mrs. Harris and her four children, were staying the night in the mobile home.
"The occupants were awakened by the smell of smoke in the house. Three of the children were asleep in the living room of the mobile home. Those three children managed to get out of the house," he said.
But Allen and family members said that while his older siblings went for help, 16-year-old Hunter ran around the home and attempted to gain access to his mother and sister, who were asleep in the master bedroom.
"(Hunter) broke out the window and pulled his sister (Presley) out of the burning house. He was unable to get to his mother," he said.
Allen said Presley suffered smoke inhalation and burns to both arms and hands. She was taken to Parkland Hospital in Dallas and was in intensive care of the burn center but was expected to fully recover.
Allen said Hunter suffered injuries to his hands from breaking out a window and was treated and released from Parkland Hospital.
Allen said a Grand Saline firefighter also was injured when a limb fell from a burning tree and struck his head.
"He was treated and released from the hospital. He probably has a headache, but he is OK," Allen said.
Authorities found Mrs. Harris' body in the master bedroom and took her to Dallas for an autopsy.
No other injuries were reported.
Allen said the fire was ignited by a space heater placed too close to flammable materials.
"They had three electric space heaters, and that was their only heat, so they had them all going. Where the fire started, we were told, there were some piles of flammable material near the heater," he said.
Allen said (Hunter) was a hero for saving his sister's life.
"There is no doubt that (he) saved the life of his sister. He tried feverishly to get to his mother but could not gain access to her due to the heat and smoke," he said.
Family members agreed, saying that if not for Hunter, then Presley would have died in the fire with her mother.
"We may look at him as a hero, but he sure is not feeling that way. He and the others need everyone's prayers," Mrs. Taylor said.
Allen said Fruitvale and Grand Saline volunteer fire departments responded to the incident, and his office was assisted by the Van Zandt County Sheriff's Office and Van Zandt County Constable Precinct 1 Mickey Henson.
Anyone wishing to help the family with clothing or monetary donations can do so by sending them to the Harris Tragedy at the Fruitvale High School.
A relative, Donna Taylor, sifts through the charred remnants of a home along Count Road 1129 in Fruitvale. 41-year old Wendy Harris died in the fire and her 14-year-old daughter was injured. (Kenneth Dean/Staff)