PALMETTO — Eva Mae Pompey’s house was a gathering place for family and fun times for all of her 81 years on the 2000 block of Fifth Avenue East in Palmetto.
But on Friday morning the black and burned out shell was a gathering place for Pompey’s grieving family.
The 81-year-old Pompey, known all over Palmetto for her zealous church going and her passion for her Christian faith, died in a fire that engulfed her four-bedroom wooden home about 1 a.m. Friday, according to her relatives.
“Everything about her was wonderful,” said Harriet Higgs, 62, who called Pompey “Auntie” as did many others who respected her as one of the matriarchs of her family.
North River Fire investigators said Pompey’s son, Levon, who also lives at the home, may have left a cigarette burning when he left just before 1 a.m.
It caught the front of the house on fire, investigators said.
It is not likely charges will be filed. Investigators said the official cause will be reported as accidental.
“She was a church-going spiritual lady who loved the Lord and loved her family,” Higgs said. “No one ever went in need with Auntie. She took care of us all.”
Neighbors said the house burst into flames quickly.
“At 1:01 a.m. the flames were in full force,” said neighbor Carolyn Hallstead, who lives a few houses down. “If I had known she was in the front room I would have tried to get her. But it was too far gone. I couldn’t see anything but flames.”
Higgs said that she thought Pompey was found just three feet from the back door, known as the front room, perhaps overcome by smoke.
“She was the only one here at the time of the fire,” said Higgs, who added that Pompey’s son, Levon, does live in the house.
“He wasn’t here,” Higgs said of Levon.
Family members painted a picture of a woman who lived in the same house all her life and had opened her arms to anyone in need.
“She was very friendly, very nice,” Hallstead said. “She loves the Lord,” said a personal friend, Earnestine Hart, who came by Friday to see if she could help. “She’s always in church.”
Hart said there were often people staying in the back room where Levon lived.“She kept them all fed,” Hart said. “It was the family home. You could live there for free if you needed to.”