Barbara Jordan ran out of her Bay Street house late Saturday after getting a phone call asking her to check on the couple living across the street.
She saw smoke rising from the small white house at 1522 Bay St. and immediately feared the worst.
“I knew they were in their 80s, so I knew it wasn’t going to be anything good,” Jordan said.
She was right — Steve Paxton, 90, died in the small fire. He was found in a back hallway where he had fallen down while trying to escape the smoke. His wife of more than 50 years, Helen Paxton, 87, was revived by firefighters after they pulled her out of the living room.
Jordan has known the couple for more than 40 years and said they, along with another man who has lived in the neighborhood for several years, are her friends, not just neighbors.
She knew Steve Paxton went to bed around 6 p.m. every day in a back bedroom while his wife stayed up late watching TV, so she feared for the Paxtons when she noticed the smoke seeping out of the home on Bay Street between North 15th and North 16th streets near Scenic Highway.
She ran across the street and banged on the door but received no response from inside. She raced back across the street and called 911.
At that point, other neighbors began leaving their homes to see what was going on and they joined her as she began beating on the door again.
“I tried kicking and pushing and got no response,” she said.
Some men joined and tried kicking the door in to no avail, Jordan said.
Inside the home, Steve Paxton, despite his breathing problems, walked out of the bedroom where the fire spawned from an electrical malfunction, grabbed a fire extinguisher and put out most of the flames, his daughter-in-law Linda Paxton said Sunday afternoon.
But the fire did not die as the bed caught fire and soon the smoke became so thick that Steve Paxton collapsed in the hallway while trying to walk to the front of the home, Linda Paxton said.
Firefighters soon arrived, kicked in the door and pulled the couple from the home. They tried CPR on both, but only Helen responded to the life-saving efforts.
“He was the backbone of the family,” Jordan said of Steve Paxton with tears running down her cheek.
Jordan said she had such a good relationship with the Paxtons that she would bring them food when she cooked and Steve Paxton would bring food over when the Paxtons cooked.
“He was just a good, good neighbor,” she said.
Next door to the Paxtons, Isaac Williams was frustrated Sunday because he was not home when the fire broke out.
“I’m really beating myself up because if I would have been home, I think I could have gotten them out,” he said.
Williams and his wife were on a date night Saturday but were returning home for something when Isaac got a call that the Paxtons’ home was on fire.
By the time he got home, firefighters had already removed the couple from the house and he got the somber news that Steve Paxton had died.
Williams said the Paxtons were nice neighbors who always told him hello and would sit in their living room with the front door open, watching cars pass by.
Linda Paxton said the family is not sure if they will bring Helen Paxton back to the Bay Street home because of the whirlwind of emotions that may hit her.
“She actually hasn’t cried yet so I don’t know if it’s hit her all the way yet,” Linda Paxton said.
Follow Ryan Broussard on Twitter @ryanmbroussard.