Harrison County

‘I just can’t believe this,’ says friend of woman who died in house fire

Best friends of a woman who died in a house fire in Gulfport’s Windsong subdivision gathered at the home Wednesday and wept.

They said the woman had two pre-teens living with her but the children were spending the night with friends at a neighbor’s home when the fire on Locust Hill Drive broke out about 2:30 a.m. Wednesday.

“I just can’t believe this,” said Amanda Hankins, one of several who described the woman as her best friend. “It just doesn’t make sense. I had to see it for myself to believe it.”

Fire Chief Mike Beyerstedt said he will release more information after a meeting with the family.

Officials have not confirmed or released the woman’s name.

Sharinda Taylor was among the neighbors who woke up to see firefighters battling the blaze.

“It was like someone went up in there (the second floor) and put a bomb in it,” she said.

Flames jumped higher than tall trees, neighbors said. Heat melted vinyl siding on neighboring homes and melted a chimney down to its wood frame.

Friends described the woman who died as kind and giving, always willing to help others on her own or as a volunteer.

She was a caregiver and “loved attending Northwood Church more than anything,” friend Asia Elliott said.

She also was a consultant for Arbonne health and beauty products.

She had lived there about 10 years, said Hankins, who had lived with her for a while.

The woman also has a teenage daughter who lives out of state with her father, friends said.

Friends and neighbors said the children, a boy and a girl, are staying with a grandmother.

Beyerstedt said the home was fully engulfed in flames when firefighters arrived.

“They entered through the back door and found a person deceased upstairs,” Beyerstedt said. “The other two people were not in the house at the time of the fire.”

The cause of the fire is under investigation.

“The investigation is going to take a while because of how badly the home was damaged,” Beyerstedt said.

Investigators with the Biloxi Fire Department and the state Fire Marshals Office are investigating, along with the Gulfport Police Department.

A neighbor in Windsong has organized neighborhood efforts to help the children.

Northwood also was offering help, and had contacted youth pastors who “have watched the children grow up,” one member told the Sun Herald.

“She had a lot of struggles but she did have a heart for anyone she met,” Angela McWhorter said.

The woman was in McWhorter’s church life group.

“So sweet,” McWhorter said.

The Sun Herald will update this story as information becomes available.

Robin Fitzgerald: 228-896-2307, @robincrimenews