The wind had blown constantly that fall, but that wasn't unusual for Kansas. Most Kansans scarcely acknowledge the wind; however, on October 23, 1995, gusts were strong enough to scatter carefully piled mounds of leaves and make lights flicker on and off. Housewives set out candles and flashlights -- just in case.
In Prairie Village, Dr. Debora Green went about all her usual errands. With three children to take care of, she practically needed a timetable to coordinate their activities. She would have welcomed a power outage so they could stay home, light faintly scented candles, and just talk to each other. Late that day, they were all back together in their beautiful new house on Canterbury Court: Debora; her son, Tim; and her daughters, Lissa and Kelly. After supper they went to bed in their separate rooms. Debora thought she had turned on the burglar alarm and the smoke alarm was set on "Ready."
Fire can erupt with a raucous explosion or be as furtive as a mouse skittering silently along a wall. It was after midnight when the wind coaxed out the first tongues of fire and blew them into billows of orange before all the sleeping neighbors on Canterbury Court even knew they were in danger. The magnificent homes were so close together that squirrels could leap from one yard's trees to those next door. And the roofs were made of picturesque wooden shakes, dry as bone from the long midwestern summer.
Debora Green was barely able to escape the flames that engulfed her house. She rushed to her neighbors' house and pounded on the door, pleading for someone to help her save her children. Then she looked back at the fire and her heart convulsed at what she saw. Silhouetted against the glow the sky, the small figure of a child scampered ahead of flames that were already eating away at the beams of the garage. As the child moved north, the roof just behind her began to give way and cave in. The child -- it was Lissa -- miraculously made her way up over the peak of the roof and down the other side, where she perched precariously on the edge of the disintigrating roof. In moments she would surely fall into the fire below and perish.
"Help me!" Lissa screamed. Even through the thick black smoke, she had seen her mother standing by neighbors' house. The little girl called again and again, small voice lost in the roar of the flames. Finally -- as Debora was moving through quicksand -- Lissa saw mother head toward her. She saw her! She was coming!
Lissa knew she would be all right now; her mother would save her. Debora stood beneath the edge of the roof, her legs spread wide and her feet planted firmly so that she would not slip. She held her arms open and beckoned to Lissa to jump down to her. But it was such a long way to the ground. For a moment, Lissa hesitated -- and then she looked her shoulder and saw that the garage roof was almost gone.
"Jump!" Debora ordered. "Jump! I'll catch you."
"Jump! Now!" There was urgency in her mother's and something else, something that frightened Lissa more than the fire.
Lissa obeyed. With her arms above her head and the heat licking at her back, she leaped from the garage roof. But Debora didn't catch her, her arms were not spread wide enough, or maybe she was standing too far back from the garage. Lissa crumpled to the ground at Debora's feet. But the lawn was carpeted with a cushion of leaves and she was not hurt.
Lissa felt safe now. She was with her mother. She didn't how many houses were on fire, or if it was only their house. It seemed to her that the fire was everywhere, and the smell of smoke was also a taste of smoke in her mouth. Her mother led her toward their neighbors' house, and Lissa looked around for her brother and sister. Lights began to appear in windows up and down the block. She heard sirens far away, then coming closer and closer until they died out, whining, in front of the burning house. And in her head, she kept hearing a voice crying, "Help me! Help me!" She tried to tell her mother about that, but Debora seemed to be in shock. She said nothing. She did nothing. She was just there, looking at the fire.
Lissa didn't see her brother and sister and she began to scream for someone to save Tim and Kelly, someone to save Boomer and Russell, their dogs. Still her mother said nothing.
When Lissa saw a police car screech to a stop in front of burning house and a policeman running toward them, she begged him to save her brother and sister. He listened to her screams and then ran by without even stopping. Lissa clung to her mother and looked up into her face for reassurance, but she saw no expression at all. Debora was transfixed by the fire. The two of them just stood there, braced against the wind that was turning their house into a raging inferno.
Debora had saved one of her children. Was it possible that the other two were trapped in the fire, unable to escape? It was every mother's nightmare. And it was happening to her.
Copyright © 1997 by Ann Rule