Smoke detector saved our lives

by Penny Hawkins penny@thecherokeean
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We were sound asleep at 4:40 a.m. last Thursday, Oct. 1, when a loud alarm started sounding in our bedroom. Startled awake, I didn’t know what it was but John said, “fire alarm!” as he jumped up and headed for the hallway. How could that be? No smell of smoke, none in the air, until I got to the door into the hall and saw a haze in the nightlight. The dining room was smoky but the living room was a solid wall, John was trying to find the sliding glass door onto the deck but could not see; it was that bad. We could not find where the smoke was coming from, no sign of a fire. John ran back into the bedroom to get on shoes and that’s when he saw flames going up the outside of our living room wall. The fire was underneath our house! We have a crawl space underneath the front part of our home, the original house that was built in the 1960s. It is almost tall enough to stand up in and would make a nice storage area but we don’t use it for that – thank goodness. A vent fan that exhausts stale air has been under there for years and that seems to be what started the fire.

We ran around and threw water to knock down the flames - John thought to get buckets of water from the hot tub while I got a big hose from under the stairs at his shop. The fire had burned the wires going to our lake pump so that was no help. Our neighbor, Bonnie Osteen, dashed to the top of the hill to guide the fire trucks to our tiny lane. A volunteer with the Earle’s Chapel Volunteer Fire Department arrived first, with only two hours sleep after working night shift at the CHRISTUS Mother Frances emergency room. Next to arrive was Ken McClure of the Cherokee County Sheriff’s department. It was so good to know that we weren’t alone and that help had arrived.

We had the flames beat down but smoke was still pouring out the attic vents and we were doing what we could to contain the fire until the rest of the Earl’s Chapel and Jacksonville fire departments made the long drive out in the country to our house. The trained folks took over and the damage was contained. By daylight, the fire was out, the fighters had gone and we were left to contemplate our sooty, stinky mess. Our local insurance folks had an adjuster out before lunch, and a friend who is a contractor had come and assured us that he could do the repairs. The smoke damage remediation company sent somebody out and set a time for the crew to come clean the soot that had gone all thru the house.

Hopefully by the time you are reading this, our house will be cleaned of the worst of the mess, the contractor will be ready to start the demo/rebuild, and we have installed the new smoke detectors we have already bought.

If that alarm had not gone off, we would have slept until the fire was too far in control for our home to be saved. And maybe the toxic fumes would have put us into a deeper, final sleep.
Words cannot express our thanks for the volunteers who rolled out of their warm beds and came to fight to save our home. Deputy McClure answered the call for help and came to make sure the folks in the home on fire were out safely, whoever they were, whatever he had to do to protect them.

Please, please get smoke alarms if you don’t have them. Check the batteries often. And check on family and friends to make sure theirs are operational. They can be a life saver – ours was.

Penny Hawkins