A house fire claimed the life of an 84-year-old woman in Rock Hill early Friday morning, York County authorities said.
Family members said Olive "Ollie" Mahaffey was inside her home at 739 Ragin Lane when it was destroyed by fire around 2:45 a.m. Firefighters found her body after extinguishing the flames early Friday morning, according to a York County Sheriff's Office report.
"What a tough way to go," said Tim Harris, Mahaffey's nephew. "She was a grand ol' Southern lady."
Woman lived alone
Harris, a 51-year-old Rock Hill resident, said his aunt lived alone and suffered from severe arthritis and hearing loss. Her son stayed with her on occasion, but worked out of town most of the time, he said. Harris said his family and neighbors routinely checked on Mahaffey, who refused to live anywhere else but the Ragin Lane home she had occupied for decades.
"She probably needed to be in assisted living, but she was fiercely independent," Harris said.
York County fire investigator Charles Williamson said the fire started inside the home, but a cause hasn't been determined. Arson hasn't been ruled out, but nothing looks suspicious, he said.
Williamson said it appeared Mahaffey tried to exit the house, but was unable to escape. Her body was found on the bedroom floor, he said.
Interim York County Coroner Sabrina Gast said autopsy results and toxicology tests weren't available Friday.
"We think it's fire-related, but we just want to make sure," she said.
Gast said authorities were still trying to notify the woman's son Friday evening.
Deborah Clark, who lives across the street on Ragin Lane, awoke to the glow of flames around 2:40 a.m., she said. She said she raced to the phone to call 911 while her husband ran outside to see if he could rescue their neighbor.
"We tried but there was nothing we could do. You could feel the heat coming down the hill," she said, fighting back tears on her front porch Friday. "It's just so hard because I knew she was in there."
Next-door neighbor Gene Blow said she woke up minutes before 3 a.m. and saw the flames through her upstairs window.
"When I looked out, the whole roof was on fire and I said, 'Oh my gosh,'" she said. "I could see the flames right over her bedroom."
Blow said she first met Mahaffey in 1968. As they grew older, the two women would check up on one another.
"The last time I talked to her was Tuesday, and she sounded good," Blow said. "We looked after each other. She was a good neighbor and a fine person."
Well-liked and independent
Harris said his aunt was well-liked around town. She worked for years as a clerk in several doctors offices. Mahaffey also was a longtime member of First Presbyterian Church.
Harris said Mahaffey learned to be strong and independent as a young woman. Her mother died when she was a child, and she helped raise two younger sisters, eventually outliving both of them.
"She was basically the mother of her family," he said. "She made it through the depression always being tight with her money. She was very frugal."
Harris said the family approached Mahaffey several times about moving somewhere with round-the-clock care as her health and mobility declined. But she refused to leave her home.
"She always convinced us her neighbors kept a good check on her," he said. "They all banded together."
Friday, the peaceful neighborhood was heavy with tears.
"Ollie was always so pleasant and always wanted to do something for you," Blow said about her friend. "She definitely leaves a hole in our neighborhood."
Adam O'Daniel • 329-4069