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Dog's barking alerts family to duplex fire

October 07, 2004|by JULIE E. GREENE

julieg@herald-mail.com

Jodi St. Clair has been petrified of fire ever since a neighbor died from injuries in a 1997 fire.

As a result, St. Clair and her husband repeatedly have told their daughter what to do in the event of a fire.

The family has four smoke detectors and alarms were sounding, but it was the dog that alerted Jodi St. Clair on Wednesday morning to smoke in the two-story, brick West End duplex that the couple rents.

The barking of Mackie, who was under the covers with the couple, woke Jodi St. Clair shortly before 5 a.m., and she smelled the smoke, she said Wednesday outside her 737 Washington Ave. home.

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When her husband, Victor, opened the bedroom door, he was almost knocked over by the wave of smoke, he said. Then they heard their daughter, Amber, 12, screaming from down the hall.

Amber remembered to touch her door first to make sure it wasn't hot before opening it, her parents said. Then she walked about 12 feet down the hall to her parents' bedroom door, which was near the top of the stairs.

The three barely could see and felt their way down the stairs and out of the house safely, but the dog got scared and ran back upstairs, the couple said.

Jodi St. Clair, 39, ran across Alexander Street to her neighbor's to call 911. Her husband tried to run back upstairs to get the dog but turned back because the smoke was too thick.

Firefighters later rescued the dog - a black terrier-Labrador mix, which went under the couple's bed, they said.

The family was not injured and the dog was OK, Assistant Hagerstown Fire Marshal Richard Miller and the couple said. The family will stay at her mother's Hagerstown home until they can return to their home.

Fire officials turned off the electricity and the home was not habitable, Miller said.

The fire was contained to the basement, but there was smoke damage to the first and second floors, he said.

The fire started around the dryer vent in the basement, but the cause had not been determined, Miller said. The dryer was not on at the time and had not been used since Sunday, according to Miller and the St. Clairs.

"I thank God that all of us got out," Jodi St. Clair said.

Most of the items in the house are salvageable, Miller said.

"They did a remarkable job for as much smoke was in the house," Victor St. Clair, 39, said.

Miller said firefighters had the fire out within 11 or 13 minutes of the 4:55 a.m. call.

Miller did not have a damage estimate.

Washington Avenue was closed in that area for a couple of hours, Miller said.

The scene was cleared at 6:49 a.m., a 911 dispatcher said.

A man who said he owned the duplex said he had homeowner's insurance. He refused to give his name.

According to Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation records, the duplex is owned by William G. and Betty J. Tarsus.

On Sept. 26, 1997, George E. Maphis, 56, died from injuries sustained in an accidental kitchen fire at his 727 Washington Ave. home.

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