SMOKEY POINT — Each day when Steve Fitzpatrick strolled across the street to home No. 104, his neighbor Ted Shockley would greet him with the same line.
“Come on in and tell me a story.”
Yet it was Shockley who had so many stories to tell. He’d been a barrel-chested 205-pound sailor who served in the Navy in the Pacific near the end of World War II, and in the wars in Korea and Vietnam. He’d talk about the islands he’d visited across the ocean: the Solomon archipelago, the Gilbert atolls, Adak, Guam.
Fitzpatrick will miss those stories of his friend who died in a fire Wednesday.
Over the past three years, Fitzpatrick became close friends with Shockley, who in recent months lost his sight, fell into poor health and dropped weight until he was skin and bones, 125 pounds. Days shy of his 89th birthday, he still smoked knockoff-brand rolled tobacco.
“That’s my only entertainment,” he had told Fitzpatrick. “Rolling cigarettes and smoking cigarettes.”
Weeks ago Shockley’s mattress was burned and replaced after a smoking accident, Fitzpatrick said. On Tuesday night Fitzpatrick noticed black marks from cigarette embers in the home. He feared that smoking in bed may have sparked the fire around 9:20 a.m. that took Shockley’s life.
Hours later the Marysville Fire District confirmed smoking materials had caused the fire at the Crystal Tree Village mobile home park, on 25th Avenue NE in Marysville.
A caretaker, Billie Mooers, was miles away when Shockley called her frantically saying she needed to dial 911.
Fitzpatrick’s wife Shirley, named after Shirley Temple, had stepped outside for a cigarette when she saw a wall of thick dark smoke, she said.
“I could tell by the color that something was really burning, not just a wood stove,” she said. “So I went down to the carport, because the smoke was so thick you couldn’t see where it was coming from.”
She screamed for her husband. Fitzpatrick, 72, a retired concrete worker, snatched a pair of two-pound extinguishers. He ran across the street and pulled open the door of the burning white singlewide home. He was hit with smoke, and he could see chest-high flames. Windows were shattering.
“The smoke was just howling back at me,” Fitzpatrick said.
Fitzpatrick crawled. He saw the man on the floor a few feet from the doorway, curled up, with severe burns. He held his breath and tried to tug Shockley by his bare skin, but it was just too hot. Fitzpatrick retreated to the steps. His head felt like it was burning. He checked to make sure his hair wasn’t on fire, he said. He sprayed the fire extinguishers around Shockley, and lunged back in to pull him out. This time he grabbed under a bent elbow and pulled him to the steps. Another man helped to carry Shockley from the carport to the street.
His chest was still rising and falling as he was loaded into an ambulance.
Before the fire, Marsyville firefighters had scheduled a day next month to give out smoke alarms at Crystal Tree Village, department spokeswoman Christie Veley said. Police and fire crews were investigating if the home had a working alarm.
Shockley lived in the home for years. Flames ate through the roof Wednesday, causing an estimated $100,000 in damage. Siding was burnt and mangled. A pickup truck in the carport was scorched. Its front seats still smoldered an hour later.
Fitzpatrick knew his friend’s chances were not good. He recounted memories of his neighbor at 11 a.m. over coffee in his home, with white cream on his face and hands to soothe the burning. His wife draped a cold towel over the top of his head.
He recalled that he and Shockley could talk about anything — as long as it wasn’t politics. Shockley leaned hard to the right, a loyal fan of Fox News. Fitzpatrick is the opposite. At least once a day the Fitzpatricks visited their neighbor.
“He was a good friend,” Fitzpatrick said. “He was a good guy.”
They brought him food, or he’d come over to eat for holidays. Shockley had been taking antibiotics for infections for months. He felt like it made him lose the sense of flavor in his taste buds. But he could eat half a ham at a time. They brought him a ham earlier this week. Shockley’s birthday was going to be Saturday. Two days later, Fitzpatrick will turn 73. They had made plans to go Darrington together to have a good time.
“He loved Darrington,” Fitzpatrick said. “The fact that it wasn’t so, ah — civilized. You could go out and pee in the crick and not get busted.”
Minutes later a neighbor called. Shirley picked up the land-line and stepped into another room. She came back and sat down. At a pause in an interview, she said Shockley had died.
“OK, Ted’s gone,” Fitzpatrick said. He started to cry. “He’s homeward bound now.”
Caleb Hutton: 425-339-3454; firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @snocaleb.