Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Dogs Rescued as House Fire Brings Neighborhood Together

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Dogs Rescued as House Fire Brings Neighborhood Together

Article excerpt

Byline: Dana Midgett, County Line columnist

Five minutes. That's about the time it would have taken to change this report of a neighborhood house fire into one with more tragic results, according to firefighters. As it turns out, it's a story of neighborly acts and community involvement.

When I drove past Karen and Kruger Donalds' home on a recent afternoon, only a thin trail of smoke drifting from a soffit vent signaled something was wrong. The beeping smoke alarms and frantic barking inside their home were inaudible from the curb. But after knocking on the front door and getting no response, I placed an emergency call.

Clay County Fire Rescue arrived to see smoke pouring from the rooftop. George and Marjory Coombes came from across the street to alert fire rescue personnel that the dog they brought out alive wasn't alone; there were two more inside. The Coombeses are friendly with their neighbors, so they knew about their pets. They also knew that no people would be inside.

"We knew who was in the house, when they worked," Marjory Coombes said.

Vicki Naughton, who lives several houses from the fire, was on hand to take one of the trembling Jack Russell terriers from a firefighter. She kept the dog from running off while the Coombeses fetched a travel cage from their garage. And resident Mark Chick, a veterinarian, stopped on his way through the neighborhood to examine all three rescued dogs for signs of burns and smoke inhalation.

The trio, Winston, Scarlett and their puppy, Cleo, were unharmed and breathing fine, said Chick, who works at San Juan Animal Hospital.

"What happens with smoke inhalation is that [pets] get fluid in their lungs. Respiratory distress is the biggest thing, there's coughing," he said.

While the Donalds' home suffered extensive smoke damage and one room was destroyed, the outcome easily could have been worse. If the fire had gone undetected another 5 minutes, the whole house would have been lost, Karen Donald said firefighters told her.

"The fire almost got to the rafters," said John Bellar, the Donalds' adult son.

He said there is no structural damage, but just about everything in the house is ruined by smoke.

"There's soot on the ceilings, in air ducts, furniture, carpeting, even clothes in drawers and closets," he said.

It will be about 2 1/2 months before the house is repaired and livable again, he said. Bellar said the fire, which still is under investigation, started in the bedroom of his sister, Patricia, and consumed everything the 28-year-old owned, including baby photos.

When asked what the neighborhood could do to help, Bellar said his family just thanks everyone.

"Red Cross has been great. They put us up for two nights, and gave Patricia money to get some clothes. Everybody's been great, the police, the fire department," he said. …

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