Friday, April 20, 2012

Houndís nose pays big dividends

Dog saves woman, home from flames

Express Staff Writer

Sol, a 5-year-old Plott hound credited with saving her ownerís life and home from a dangerous fire, relaxes outside her Bellevue Triangle abode Wednesday. Photo by David N. Seelig

Most dog owners are familiar with the sensation of being awakened by a wet canine nose in the middle of the night. While for most this is an annoyance, being awakened by her dog in the middle of the night may have saved Bellevue Triangle resident Lynne French's home—and her life.

French's home caught fire early in the morning of Thursday, April 5, due to faulty sump pump that Wood River Fire & Rescue Chief Bart Lassman said overheated electrical wires and caused a blaze.

French said she had no idea that anything was wrong when Sol, her 5-year-old Plott hound, woke her in the wee hours of the morning. Sol's request was unusual, French said, but not strange enough to make her worry.

"She rarely wants to go outside in the middle of the night," French said.

The dog came from the main floor of the home, where she had been sleeping, up to French's bedroom to awaken French and the other dogs sleeping in the bedroom.

"That night, everyone wanted to go out," she said.

So she bent to their request and went out herself to enjoy the beautiful, warm night.

"The moon was out, and there was no wind," she said. "If it had been cold and windy, I probably wouldn't have gone out."

It's a good thing she did, she said, as firefighters later told her that the fire was likely already smoldering in the home when she left.

"They said that's why the dog came and got me—she could smell it," French said.

French said she ended up falling asleep with her dogs outside, and woke to the sun shining at about 7 a.m.

"I was already upset, because I was worried about the dogs being out all night," she said. "I began to walk toward the house, and I saw the smoke coming out of the master bathroom window."

Lassman said the fire had started in a "daylight basement," a lower level of the home that was partially built into a grade. The malfunctioning sump pump likely overheated nearby wires in a sewage-lift-station mechanism. He said the fire eventually ignited the small utility room and burned through the room's door.

He said that once the fire really got going, it probably created a "flash over," an explosive process in which gases produced by the burned materials ignite.

French said she immediately shut the dogs in a barn at a safe distance and moved her horses to a nearby pasture, in order to more easily allow fire trucks to access the house. However, she had not yet called 911 to report the fire—her cell phone was still charging in the house, she said, and she couldn't run back to get it. Time was shorter than she realized, though.

"[The firefighters said that] had it been another 10 to 30 minutes, the whole house would have gone up," she said. "I had already spent 10 minutes getting the dogs in the barn, and I was so busy getting out the horses, and then I was going to go next door and see if they would call 911."

Luckily, neighbor Marlene Peck had already noticed the smoke on her way to work and stopped to call in the incident. Four engines and 27 firefighters from Wood River Fire & Rescue were on their way.

"[Marlene] really is the hero in this," French said. "If she hadn't have stopped ... I probably would have been on my last breath by the time I got [next door]."

Lassman said his crews were able to get the fire under control within 20 minutes of their arrival at 7:38 a.m. According to Lassman, the fire's heat had split the solder joint of a nearby water pipe, and the gushing water helped suppress the flames.

French said damage to her house was estimated at $200,000—mostly in smoke damage—but that she's grateful it wasn't worse.

"It's not something anyone wants to go through," she said.

Katherine Wutz:

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