Reporter: James Gherardi l Videographer: Jonathan Merryman
Chatham, VA - A Wednesday morning fire ripped through a home in Chatham killing a woman inside.
The emotion was raw as friends and family of 53-year-old Milicent Whitehead gathered and mourned their loss. The story neighbors tell of the fire is overwhelmingly tragic.
"He had heard her hollering and she was going to the back part of the house, so we tried to get in and save her, and there wasn't nothing we could do," said neighbor Karl Williams.
There was nothing to do but mourn and remember Whitehead.
"I miss her now. She can't be replaced. She's just like a mother, my mother, she can't be replaced. She's a friend that can't be replaced," said Williams.
Flames erupted at around 8 a.m. at Whitehead's home in Chatham. Officials say the fire ripped through the building in a matter of minutes, leaving nothing but the foundation.
They knew someone was inside, and that no one could have survived. Michelle Gunter is Whitehead's cousin and was one of the first at the scene.
"I've been with the department right at 10 years. I worked on the Chatham lifesaving crew for over five years, back in the 80s, and I have never went on a call and seen anything like this," she said.
She says she was overcome with emotion when discovering it was her one of her own family members that had perished.
"I just stayed calm and just kept praying to myself, you know, 'Lord, just give me the strength,'" she said.
At around 9:30 a.m., the flames died. A few hours later, crews carried Whitehead's body from the scene.
"But once we discovered the body... it's a smell. I think it'll take a moment to get rid of because I can still smell it. Actually when I close my eyes, I can still see her," said Gunter.
Whitehead lived in that home with her husband Lee Whitehead. He was at work when the fire broke. A cause is still being investigated, but the county Fire Marshal did say the house had a wood burning stove.