Neighbors remember Doris Clay as a kind woman who often kept to herself in her Fuquay-Varina neighborhood.
Clay died Wednesday, several hours after firefighters pulled her from her burning apartment in Hillcrest Village. She was 90, according to a Fuquay-Varina spokeswoman.
Investigators determined the fire was started by discarded smoking materials in Clay’s bedroom, said Fuquay-Varina Fire Chief Tony Mauldin.
Clay’s grandson was also in the apartment at the time of the fire but escaped.
Firefighters received a call about the fire at 4:15 a.m. Wednesday. When they arrived, Mauldin said, flames were shooting through the roof and windows of the one-story home.
Firefighters entered the still-burning building to retrieve Clay, who was transported to WakeMed Hospital in Raleigh and then to UNC Hospitals, where she died.
Bill Stinson, who lives three doors down from Clay’s apartment, said he awoke early Wednesday to the sounds of someone banging on his window.
“When I walked out the door, my heart went to my feet,” said Stinson, 75. “I could see everything going up.”
Stinson said he moved to Hillcrest Village about six weeks ago and had spoken to Clay.
“She was just friendly to me,” he said.
Hillcrest Village resident Jo Jeffries said Clay had been a friend of her mother’s in a neighborhood across town.
“She was a lovely person,” said Jeffries, 62. “She was a sweetheart.”
On Thursday, neighbors quietly strolled by Clay’s apartment as a worker put up a fence.
Stinson said he was still marveling at the firefighters’ courage.
“They are the bravest men I have ever seen,” he said. “I thought to myself, ‘I wouldn’t have that kind of nerve.’ ”