Fire at El Lago house of Challenger astronaut's widow

Fire ripped through the home of an astronaut's widow in the Clear Lake area while she was inside. 

Cheryl McNair had been sound asleep when flames forced her from her El Lago home just before 5 a.m. Mrs. McNair's husband is actually a history-making astronaut who died on Space Shuttle Challenger.

It’s devastating to see a family’s home ravaged by fire. 

"It really hurts a lot,” says neighbor Asha Singh.

"Very heartbreaking. We saw the house burning. It was a terrible sight,” adds neighbor Malina Wojtkowski.

As flames quickly spread, so did word of whose house was on fire. Neighbors say Mrs. McNair has lived here more than 20 years.

McNair is the widow of astronaut Dr. Ronald Erwin McNair. He died on Space Shuttle Challenger in 1986 with six other crew members when Challenger exploded 73 seconds after take-off.

"He lost his life. He was a pioneer. I have so much respect for astronauts,” explains Wojtkowski.

In fact, Dr. McNair made history as the second African-American to reach space. Neighbor Asha Singh’s husband retired from NASA. She wants Mrs. McNair to know the neighborhood is here for her. 

"Anything she needs we are here to help," she said.

Fortunately, Mrs. McNair made it out of her burning home safely after smoke detectors sounded and she was awakened by her home alarm monitoring company calling, telling her that her house was on fire.

"God bless this family. We’re praying for them,” says Wojtkowski.

According to the Seabrook Fire Department, it appears the fire was accidental and was likely started by an electric water heater in the attic.

Mrs. McNair was the only person in the house when the fire started. She released a statement saying she’s grateful for all the prayers and to the firefighters for going back into the house and rescuing her cat, "Rocka Jen,” who is now “at the vet and doing well.”

So, what about all of her husband’s photos and memorabilia? We’re told she was able to grab a few items as she fled her burning home, but she’s just not sure, at this point, what was lost and what will be able to be saved.