They hugged and cried as they looked at the gutted house in the light rain Friday afternoon, remembering the two women who had lived in the brick and wood home in the 2500 block of Rickenbacker Street as “sweet persons.”

 

But just after 1 a.m. fire raged through the small home in the Grand Park community, leaving 60-year-old Martha Hartley dead and critically injuring her mother, 74-year-old Betty Bostic, who passed away at a Gaineseville hospital, according to the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office.

Cassandra Brown, Hartley’s stepdaughter, said “Miss Betty” was “the life of the party.” Many members of the women’s large family were already in Gainesville for another funeral when Friday morning’s tragedy hit the home just south of Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway, Brown said.

“We are not doing too good right now. We are scattered right now and waiting for everybody to come together,” Brown said. ” … Martha and Miss Betty were the rock of the family, and they are what kept everything holding together. We are just trying to find everybody. We are just trying to hold on.”

A man who grew up in the neighborhood, Kevin Allen, said he had just brought his wife home from work when she spotted the fire just after 1 a.m. He said he tried to help but couldn’t get in past the smoke and flames.

“When I got here, the whole house was on fire. I jumped out and tried to run inside,” Allen told First Coast News, the Times-Union’s news partner. “I tried to get inside but the smoke was unbearable… I knew them. They are like family to me. It was devastating. I couldn’t do anything.”

Hartley’s grandson, Monte Bostic, also was there and tried to save the women, Brown said. Looking at the burned home with a melted garbage can under the collapsed and charred carport roof, she was shocked at damage that even burned part of the next-door neighbor’s roof.

“It’s gone! The whole house is gone — everything,” Brown said. “I believe from the way that looks, they got trapped in there and they couldn’t get out.”

Both women were initially taken to UF Health Jacksonville at 1:20 a.m. in critical condition, according to fire officials. Brown said Bostic was airlifted to Gainesville.

Police said there doesn’t appear to be any foul play connected with the fire as the state Fire Marshal’s Office investigates. Family members say they have heard that an electrical issue may have been the cause.

Dan Scanlan: (904) 359-4549