But it was long enough to be reminded that in fire, beauty and horror are siblings.
This is especially true when an old house like this one burns.
The house was a two-story, brick American Foursquare, an architectural style that was especially popular in the early 20th century. It was built in the 1930s. A firefighter on the scene said some of the interior walls and ceilings were beadboard.
I would imagine the interior woodwork remained a sight to behold right up to when the flames touched it, even if the view out the front door had changed significantly since the 1930s, where what must have once been a quiet, two-lane road now is a four-lane bypass.
As someone put it in an understated comment on a Facebook photo of the fire, the house looked like it had a lot of potential.
Unfortunately, the lot it sits on also has a lot of potential, but not for single-family uses such as that house.
The developers who bought it plan to begin work in July to build a three-story apartment complex intended for low-income adults over 55. The house’s footprint is where one end of the L-shaped building will be, said Roy Helm, president of Wesley Community Development, a Methodist-based company that is planning the apartments together with the Western North Carolina Housing Partnership.
The developers let firefighters use the house for training. Battalion Chief Ken Nelson of the Lenoir Fire Department said that nine teams of firefighters from Lenoir, Hudson and Gamewell each had at least two training sessions finding and fighting fires that were set inside the house.
A two-story house like this one is especially valuable for training, Nelson said, because fire behaves differently where there are stairs, which act like a chimney. Fire creates its own weather, and the structure of a house influences it. Firefighters need to be able to see how fire behaves in different kinds of structures.
By about noon, after setting and putting out 20 or more fires, the firefighters set the final one, then stepped back.
Eventually I had to step back too. I kept stepping back. Once the flames burned through the roof, the heat emanating into the front yard — even against the wind — felt uncomfortably hot. I wondered whether the lenses in my glasses would warp, even as I watched Chief Ken Briscoe, wearing glasses, stand his ground 20 feet closer than I was.
Many of the firefighters, standing in T-shirts, remained closer to the fire than I could bear. Perhaps that’s good training too. They get used to the heat.
One things I’m not sure I could get used to is the burning. That beautiful wood, those stately bricks, that old, crinkled glass. The things that would evoke memories and provoke stories from those who grew up here.
In a couple of months, even the ashes will be gone.