An 82-year-old Santa Paula woman who ran a neighborhood market for three decades was apparently killed Wednesday when an intense fire consumed her small Bedford Street home.
A charred body believed to be that of Eviza Christina Blackshear was found inside her melted car, which was parked in the rubble of her garage.
Although authorities and Blackshear's family assumed she was the victim, the body was burned beyond recognition and no positive identification was made Wednesday.
A resident of Santa Paula since 1936, Blackshear owned a small local grocery store--Blackshear's Market on California 150--for 34 years.
"She was a landmark," neighbor Jim Bridges said of the tiny, gray-haired great-grandmother who still taught Sunday school until health problems slowed her this year.
Blackshear lived alone, but her son and grandson both live in Santa Paula. She is survived by two children, four grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren, said son Boyce Blackshear. The fire started at about 4 p.m. and moved rapidly from the garage to the rest of the house, fire officials said. The cause of the blaze--which a witness said followed a series of explosions--was still unconfirmed Wednesday night, officials said.
Family members said they did not know why Blackshear was apparently sitting in the driver's seat of her Ford Granada when the fire erupted. One neighbor said the car was inoperable because of a dead battery.
"We know it started in the garage. We don't know how it started," Santa Paula Fire Department spokeswoman Sheryl Trent said.
One neighbor said he heard a series of explosions before stepping outside to see Blackshear's house engulfed in flames. "It looked like someone launched a rocket into it," said Paul Bridges, who lives across the street.
Santa Paula Police Sgt. George Brink, who is also a neighbor, was the first officer to arrive at the burning house. "I was just worried she was in there," he said. "It was all flames."
Watching quietly as fire officials sifted through the charred garage trying to determine the fire's cause, family members and friends shared memories of the elderly woman whom neighbors called "Grandma Blackshear."
Boyce Blackshear recalled how his mother bought a computer at age 80 and had mastered it by 82, despite a stroke and other health problems.
"She was a great, independent lady."
Fire Chaplain Steve Kay, who is the minister at Blackshear's church, was stunned when he realized the fire had consumed Blackshear's house.
"At first I was hoping she was someplace else. We kept hoping that," he said. "And then they got to the garage and said there was a body in the car. I couldn't believe it could happen to her."