Judy Romig finished mowing the lawn, put the riding mower in the detached garage and went into her house to get a drink of water.
When she came out a short time later, about 1:45 p.m. Monday, she noticed smoke coming from the garage close to her home at 34 Haas Road in Longswamp Township.
Rushing to the garage, she found the mower on fire near her vintage custom cars, a '56 Ford pickup and a '66 Chevy Chevelle.
She also rescued Cruiser, a Welsh corgi, from the house.
"I managed to get the vehicles and my dog out," Romig said Monday afternoon. "The rest is pretty much gone."
All that remained of the garage was charred embers.
The end of the house closest to the garage was gutted, and the rest was damaged by fire, smoke and water.
No damage estimate was available, and there were no injuries.
Randy Sicher, Topton fire chief, said the garage was already engulfed and one end of the house was on fire when crews arrived.
"The wind blew the fire right onto the house," he said.
Firefighters from a half-dozen area companies had the fire under control in about 35 minutes, Sicher said.
They remained on the scene, however, for several hours to guard against flare ups.
Neighbors watched in horror as flames devoured the garage and house, a modular structure.
"I heard the popping," a neighbor said, "and I didn't know what was going to happen."
Romig, a waitress at Jakx Diner in Topton, was comforted by family members as firefighters battled the intense fire in a rural development surrounded by farm fields.
The fire moved too quickly, she said, to get anything but the car and truck out. Amid the shock, she managed to drive the vehicles to neighbors' driveways across the street.
She's had the classic vehicles, which she had restored, for about 13 years and shows them at area cruise nights.
While the fire remains under investigation, Romig is certain the mower started the blaze. She saw it on fire when she entered the burning garage.
About 50 firefighters from the area companies joined Topton in battling the blaze.
Derrick Romig of Kutztown, Judy's son, helped his mother salvage a few items from the charred ruins.
The home is insured, he said.
Derrick is thankful his mom was able to get the vehicles out. They're irreplaceable, he said.
"Everything's gone," he said. "But my mom's strong, she'll start over."
Contact Ron Devlin: 610-371-5030 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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