The body of a 95-year-old woman is believed to be among the ashes of her Penticton, B.C. home after flames gutted the house early Wednesday evening. Fire officials said the residence was jam-packed with belonging and having to force their way through slowed the rescue effort.

Fire crews are using heavy machinery to carefully sift through a charred pile of debris while a spotter stationed on a neighbouring roof keeps his eyes peeled for any sign of the elderly resident who lived in the home for more than half a century.

Neighbour John Vassilaki said the missing woman’s name is Mary.

As firefighters arrived on the scene, a woman is said to have ran toward them saying her mother was in the home. Penticton Deputy Fire Chief Chris Forster said crews have not confirmed the woman was inside during the fire.

“She is nowhere to be seen at the present time, which is not good news,” neighbor Al Mansfield, whose home was damaged by the flames, told CTV Vancouver.

Forster said the sheer volume of possessions inside the home presented a significant obstacle for first responders.

“The home did have a significant accumulation of articles over the years. When there is accumulation like that, it’s just so tightly packed. It’s just hard to tell what is what once you get inside,” he said.

Witnesses said they heard a loud explosion around 6 p.m. on Wednesday before flames engulfed the house and spread to a neighbouring residence. Two homes were destroyed.

“It was a very, very hot fire,” said Vassilaki. “It was an inferno.”

Mansfield said he was forced to evacuate without a moment’s notice.

“We only got out with what we had on. No toothbrushes. No shavers. No nothing. It’s unbelievable,” he said.

Vassilaki described his missing neighbour as a “very kind lady. She would give you the shirt off her back.”

With a report from CTV Vancouver’s Shannon Paterson