The Christmas tree in a mansion in Severna Park, Maryland, was dry and had been up for weeks after the holiday, but the Pyles wanted to enjoy their twinkling lights just a little longer.
But in the early hours of Jan. 19, 2015, something sparked. The tree was engulfed in flames that quickly spread, consuming the home and killing all six people inside.
Don and Sandra Pyle, along with their grandchildren, Alexis Boone, 8, Kaitlyn Boone, 7, Wesley Boone, 6 and Charlotte Boone, 8 were unable to escape. All six people, including two pairs of siblings, were killed.
In her first interview since the tragedy, Charlotte and Wesley's mother, Eve Boone, spoke about the night she suffered an unspeakable loss.
"We were at a neighbor’s house waiting for any word," Boone told News4. "As time went on, it became apparent what had happened."
The 15-foot tree in the mansion, which was dry after once-a-week watering, burned quickly and then spread. Firefighters arrived less than 15 minutes after the first alarms went off. They ran inside but were forced to evacuate within five minutes. The fire wasn’t under control for another three hours.
"This fire was so intense, so hot and spread so quickly that nobody in the house had an opportunity to escape, and it explains why all six victims perished," said David Cheplak, a special agent for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
"This didn’t have to happen," Boone said.
The night before, her son, Wesley, and daughter, Charlotte, had dinner and a sleepover with their grandparents and cousins.
"They were just beautiful, happy, fun kids," Boone said.
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After the deaths of her children, she said she tries to honor them.
"Try to keep in mind: What would they want you to do that day? Would they want to see you cry and be upset? They know that you miss them, but they don’t want you to be sad," she said.
Charlotte loved making videos with her guinea pig, Oreo, and riding horses. Boone took up riding horses in honor of her daughter’s memory.
"She had a lot of spirit," Boone said.
"She was going to be an animal rescuer," Boone said with a laugh. "And famous at the same time."
Boone celebrated Wesley’s birthday by doing something he would have loved: she went skydiving.
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"This is something that he will laugh at me for doing," Boone said. "How could his mom ever jump out of a plane?"
Wesley was a sweet boy who looked up to his big sister. He loved Minecraft and the beach.
"He was hilarious," his mom said.
Her trauma is profound, but she said it has gotten easier over the past three years to be near the chair Charlotte painted with her mom, and the blanket the kids shared.
A strong community also helps Boone move forward. She keeps a book of well-wishes that poured in from around the world during the dark days after the fire.
Boone also stays close to Don Pyle’s sister, Sher Grogg, who finds peace herself by working with a fire safety group called Common Voice.
"I was waking up at 3 a.m. most mornings because it was right before the accident would have happened," Grogg said. "I was searching to find out why … why it happened. Why the fire was so fast."
Boone said she shared her story because she wants to spread the word about holiday fire safety.
"This didn’t have to happen, and it doesn’t have to happen," she said. "So, if I can ever stop even one person from going through something like this, it’s worth it."