89ºF

Home of Challenger widow goes up in flames

EL LAGO, Texas – More than 30 years after the Challenger tragedy, the home of astronaut Ronald McNair’s widow, Cheryl, was largely destroyed.

The Seabrook Volunteer Fire Department Chief said the fire started in the attic around 5 a.m., and quickly spread to the entire second floor.

The fire was so hot at one point, the chief said, firefighters had to evacuate the home and go on defense. But 45 minutes after arriving, they put it out.

“Unfortunately, there was a fire in my home this morning that caused extensive damage,” Cheryl McNair said in a statement. “I was fortunate that my home security system alerted me of the fire and was able to get out of the house safely.”

Much of what wasn’t destroyed by fire is soaked or smoke-damaged. The house is still standing, but many memories were lost.

“Units arrived within three to four minutes and did find a fully involved house fireball,” Chief Andrew Gutacker said. “There are pictures and plaques that were saved; at the same time, there are pictures and plaques that are damaged.”

“Oh it’s horrible, I can’t imagine. Anyone losing their home by fire, particularly as nice as she is,” said Preston Smith, the McNair’s next door neighbor for more than 30 years. “Certainly the memories she has in that house over the years, so it has to be totally devastating.”

Firefighters said the cause of the fire “is under investigation” but appeared to be “electrical in nature.”

Neighbors rushed to help Cheryl McNair collect several items and rush out of the burning home, Gutacker said.

Steve Howard, who lives directly behind McNair, said his heart sank when he saw the fire.

“The whole house was pretty much engulfed in flames,” Howard said. “She has already had a tough road. It was pretty sad for her to go through another tragedy.”

Howard said McNair was worried about losing priceless memories, but also her cat Rocka Jen, who McNair mentioned in her statement.

“The firefighters were able to go back into the house and get my cat, Rocka Jen, who is now at the vet and doing well,” she wrote.

“I greatly appreciate the outpouring of calls, continued thoughts and prayers as we begin to assess the damage and move forward.”

NASA officials will be going to the home to look over some of the memorabilia.

McNair sent a statement to KPRC2 that read, "Unfortunately, there was a fire in my home this morning that caused extensive damage. I was fortunate that my home security system alerted me of the fire and was able to get out of the house safely. The firefighters was able to go back into the house and get my cat, Rocka Jen, who is now at the vet and doing well. I greatly appreciate the outpouring of calls, continued thoughts and prayers as we begin to assess the damage and move forward."


About the Authors: