TOW, Texas — Charred pieces of metal and ash-covered debris and a tree burned by flames so hot that the wood crystallized are all that's left of the Sanderson home in this Llano County community about 60 miles northwest of Austin.
The place once filled with laughter and joy was reduced to rubble by fire Friday afternoon.
"We all live out here, so when the address went over the radio, we're all familiar with it," said Tow Volunteer Fire Department Chief Josh Becker. "It was one of our own guys."
The home on Edna Street is where Tow volunteer firefighter Ronald Sanderson lived with his wife Tiffany and their three young children.
"Once we got into the truck en route we were told, possibly somebody in the house," Becker said.
Becker, who is Sanderson's neighbor, and Assistant Fire Chief Price Taylor were the first crew to arrive at the home just after 2 p.m.
"It was just orange fire. There was a whole lot of black smoke," Taylor said.
And Ronald Sanderson was inside.
Taylor said his first reaction was to try to save his friend.
"Got as close as I could to the fire with the hose and realized that there was no entry that could be made in it," he said. "Of course Josh was hollering at me the whole time, 'No, you can't do it! No, you can't do it,'" Taylor recalled.
"There was no way he was coming back out; the whole house was fully engulfed, had already collapsed on itself," Becker added.
It wasn't long before the community learned Sanderson died trying to protect his family.
"From talking to his wife, he was hollering at them, bring him water, and she says next thing she knows there's smoke coming into the house," Becker said. "She opened the back door and grabbed the kids and went our the back door and best we know, he opened the front door to go in and make sure they were out."
"If you know anything about fires, you know if you get oxygen in the fire, it's going to go. At that point it was just smoke, but as soon as his wife opened that back door and went out and he opened that front, that was it," Taylor explained.
Sanderson was a father of five. He had two adult children from previous relationships and three children between the ages of 3 and 8 with his wife.
He was one of 12 firefighters with the Tow Volunteer Fire Department and had been a member for 10 years. His colleagues say he will be dearly missed.
"It's gonna be hard for a while, because every time I walk out my back door, it's there. And the smell still lingers in the air," Becker said.
"I'd see him at least two or three times a day. Most of the times early in the morning, he was beating on my door, telling me to get up out of bed... and waiting there until I do. I just miss him," Taylor said.
On Sunday, Becker and Taylor sifted through the debris, searching for Sanderson's gear. His charred boots and scorched coat now sit where his home stood as a reminder that a firefighter made the ultimate sacrifice there.
The State Fire Marshal's Office has finished its investigation. The cause of the fire and exact origin of where it started cannot be determined.
Sanderson's wife is a stay-at-home mom, and their home was not insured. The Pittsburg Avenue Baptist Church in Llano is accepting donations for the family. Volunteers said the family needs household items, toiletries and clothes for the young boys and Mrs. Sanderson. If you would like to help, you can contact Kristy Becker at 325-423-2466.