Janet T. Anderson was sitting watching television on Saturday night around 7:30 p.m., one of her two cats on her lap, when the smoke alarm went off.
Mrs. Anderson got up, walked over to the dining room and saw flames leaping up the wall. She immediately called 911, and then exited her home, at 118 Beechwood Avenue in North Madison.
The North Madison Volunteer Fire Co. was quick to arrive, along with several other fire departments, the Madison Police Department, and Madison Ambulance Association. Mrs. Anderson said she counted more than 14 fire trucks and tankers at one point, along with other smaller trucks.
Watching as the firefighters battle the flames
Mrs. Anderson stood by her mailbox, watching as the firefighters battled the flames consuming her house. Around about 9:30 p.m. Saturday, Mrs. Anderson said, she had to go to Yale New Haven Hospital-Shoreline in Guilford to be treated for mild smoke inhalation. Her neighbors Nancy and Kathy stayed with her at the hospital. A firefighter also was treated for injuries at the scene of the fire.
Later that night, Timmy, Mrs. Anderson's 16-year-old tiger cat, showed up. Timmy and Mrs. Anderson stayed at her down-the-street neighbor Marge's house.
Early Sunday, Mrs. Anderson drove back up the street to her home. As she drove up, a crew of carpenters were working on the house, which was almost thoroughly destroyed inside, putting a tarp on ruined roof and boarding up the doors and windows.
Leaving a small opening, just big enough for a cat
One of the carpenters, Kevin Plumber, explained to Mrs. Anderson that in one doorway they left a small opening, just big enough for a cat, in case the second cat was still inside or somehow got back inside. Mrs. Anderson's black cat, Onyx, is still missing. Mrs. Anderson brought water and cat food with her, and put it outside the small opening.
As she put out the food and water Sunday morning, Mrs. Anderson said she was overwhelmed by what happened and didn't know what she needed.
"It changes your life in a couple of seconds," she said.
"They were all superb"
She was still thinking about what happened the night before. She said she didn't know what caused the fire. Madison Fire Marshal Samuel E. DeBurra Jr. said Tuesday the cause of the fire remains under investigation.
"They closed off Beechwood," she said. "The fire departments, the police departments, the ambulance, the people at the hospital, they all were superb."
Mrs. Anderson and her family have lived in the home since June of 1965. Her husband, Arthur P. Anderson, known as Pete, passed away eleven years ago this month. The two Anderson children, Kristine A. Huber, who is just finishing up medical school, and Bruce T. Anderson, who used to be a volunteer firefighter with North Madison Volunteer Fire Co., and is now a cargo pilot who was en route to Afghanistan to deliver supplies, were planning to come back to Madison after hearing about the fire. Mrs. Anderson said she expected her sister from the Cape to come as well.
Be on the lookout for Onyx
As Mrs. Anderson was putting out food and water for the cats Sunday morning, she was visited by members of her church, St. Andrew's in Madison, and by other neighbors and friends, who offered hugs and offers of any help that might be needed. She greeted everyone calmly and with a smile, and asked people to be on the lookout for Onyx.
"I'll bet it's just scared and in hiding," agreed Rick, one of her neighbors.
Mrs. Anderson said Onyx loved to snuggle and would fall asleep in her lap when she was sitting.
"That was a good day"
Kevin Plumber, the carpenter, said later he wasn't sure if a cat could survive such a fire. But, in his many years of doing clean up work after fires, he has seen some miracles. He remembers once, just when they were about to tear down a building after a fire, they heard something. It was a puppy who had somehow survived.
"That was a good day," he said.
Mrs. Anderson, as she finished up putting the cat food and water out, said she was looking forward to seeing her children and sister. "They won't be happy to see this, but I'll be happy to see them," she said.
Looking forward to seeing her family, and hoping to find her her cat
She talked quietly about their accomplishments, their volunteer work, her daughter's wish to practice medicine treating families in under-served communities, and about her grandchildren, and their volunteer work.
She adjusted the placement of the cat food and water one more time, then leaned over to the small hole in the plywood door covering the charred interior of her home.
"Onyx ... Onyx," she called. "Mummy's here."
She waited, then headed back to her car, and back to Marge's house and Timmy.
Comments on this story are being moderated. You are welcome to post good wishes for Mrs. Anderson and her family. If you hear of any specific initiatives to help Mrs. Anderson, we'd like to know about that. Likewise, if you have a specific offer of help for Mrs. Anderson, you are welcome to post that as well. Thank you.
Editor's note: This story was updated Tuesday morning, Jan. 22, 2013 to include a comment from Madison Fire Marshal Samuel E. DeBurra Jr.