Kayla Pietz was on the phone late Sunday night when her dog started whining and barking.
That’s when the Richland woman heard a commotion next door in her aunt’s side of the duplex. Then she saw the smoke. Seconds later she was standing in their front yard, watching helplessly as flames shot from her aunt’s bedroom into the night sky.
“I opened my front door and saw flames and smoke coming from her side,” Pietz said. “I grabbed my son and dog and put them in the jeep. I was just screaming that she was still in there.”
Pietz stood powerless as a neighbor kicked in doors and broke out windows trying to save her 54-year-old aunt, Denise Myers, known by her family as “Niecy.”
When the fire at 1105 Fitch St. was out, Myers and her five cats had died inside. Pietz and her 2-year-old son Marlo, whom she described as the light of Myers’ life, were not hurt.
“I’m exhausted and just trying to process everything,” Pietz said after the sleepless night. “I was the one who had to tell everybody my aunt was gone. I had to tell (Myers’ 26-year-old son Brady); that was the hardest part.”
A neighbor walking a dog was the first to see the fire and call 911, said Richland police Detective Athena Clark. When fire crews arrived about 11:30 p.m., intense heat and flames kept them from being able to get inside.
Myers’ twin sister, Debbie Pietz, Kayla’s mother, said her sister died at the foot of her bed with two of her beloved cats by her side. “She was the most loving, caring person anyone could ever meet,” Pietz said through tears. “She would give the shirt off her back.”
Myers was born and raised in the Tri-Cities and last worked at Hanford as a desktop publisher, Pietz said. She moved into the four-bedroom duplex in 2004 after their father bought the home.
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The cause of the fire still is under investigation, and officials will have to wait on the autopsy and lab results before a cause can be determined, said Richland Fire Marshal Kurt Hubele.
Pietz said she’d worried for years about old electrical wiring in the bedroom of the 1944 duplex that she shared for a while with her sister.
She also wondered if a heating pad her sister routinely slept with may have caused the blaze.
Pietz said the two had the same laugh that was widely recognized by friends. When they were young, their silky blonde hair made it hard for even relatives to tell them apart.
“Every time she needed someone to talk to, it was me,” Debbie Pietz said.
Benton County Coroner John Hansens said the autopsy was planned Monday night.
Funeral arrangements still are pending.
“I am just trying to take it all in,” Kayla Pietz said. “It is surreal.”