RALEIGH — Twins Corisha and Courtney Darden had just gotten home from school when one of the girls looked out a window and saw that the grass was on fire in the yard across the street.
The ninth-graders watched as strong winds fanned the flames over the road and their grass started to burn, too.
"We opened the front door and a big puff of smoke blew in," Courtney said later. "We ran out the back."
"It was just like that," Corisha chimed in, snapping her fingers for emphasis. "We didn't have time to grab anything. We don't have anything but the clothes on our backs and the shoes on our feet."
"Guess we'll have to take a few days off school," Courtney observed, somewhat hopefully.
The twins, their two older sisters and their mother had just moved in to their rented three-bedroom townhouse last summer -- the first brand-new home the family had lived in.
As the Pine Knoll Townes complex continued to smolder Thursday evening, the family sat in the lobby of a nearby hotel with other newly homeless residents, watching the 6 p.m. news coverage of their own personal disaster on a big-screen television. Their clothes smelled strongly of smoke.
Speculation swirled about whether the fire had started in the part of the complex still under construction. Some said they saw construction workers running, hollering "Fuego," the Spanish word for fire.
"I saw a man in a red shirt run away and get in his truck," Courtney said.
While their mother, Diane Love, went to check in at the front desk, the twins huddled at the hotel's courtesy computer, updating their MySpace.com Internet page to let their Millbrook High School classmates know what had happened.
Standing nearby was Johanna Johnson, one of the twins' older sisters, wearing a T-shirt, sweat pants, teal terry cloth bathrobe and slip-on shoes.
"I was just taking down my hair," Johnson, 18, explained.
Their mother had come home from a quick trip to the store to find her girls safe but nearly everything she owned in flames.
Now she had to focus on filling out the form to receive assistance from the Red Cross, which will provide her family with two hotel rooms for four days, as well as vouchers for food and clothes.
One of her two cars burned, but it was still unclear whether any of the family's other possessions survived the inferno. Love had her purse and cell phone, but not the charger. She glanced at her wrist to check the time only to realize her watch had been in the house.
"I usually wear it," said Love, who works as a receptionist at WakeMed. "But not today. We don't have anything. Extra socks. Hairbrush. I just want my family photos."
She was hopeful that her landlord, Metro Property Management, would help provide a place for the family to go when the Red Cross assistance runs out. Love called her insurance company, but was unsure whether the payments on her renter's policy were up-to-date.
"Right now I'm just thinking about what's next," the mother said. "We have a bed to sleep in for the next couple days. But after that, who knows?"
Staff writer Michael Biesecker can be reached at 829-4698 or firstname.lastname@example.org.