Dog rescued from spontaneous-combustion fire in Holly Springs

akenney@newsobserver.comJuly 11, 2013 

— Spontaneous combustion drove a Holly Springs couple from their home, but the town fire chief saved the family’s 14-year-old dog.

Town officials say a teak oil-soaked bucket of rags overheated through a physical process, then burst into flames early July 7. The fire quickly spread to the porch and the inside of the house.

Fire Chief LeRoy Smith didn’t have much time when he arrived to think about the beguiling exothermic reaction that had ignited the fire at 5041 Sunset Fairways Drive.

“The lady came up to me and said her dog was still in the house, and the dog was deaf,” Smith said. The Australian Shepherd had most likely retreated to the upstairs closet where he hides from thunderstorms.

So Smith donned his gear and followed his firefighters into the house.

“I tried to get up the steps and search, but it was too hot. It was smoky and dark,” Smith said.

The path cleared when the Fairview Rural Fire Department arrived minutes later, pulling a new hose to the top of the steps.

A Fairview firefighter accompanied the Holly Springs chief to an upstairs bedroom, then pulled the terrified dog from a walk-in closet.

Outside again, “I handed the dog to somebody in the front yard” before heading back into the house, Smith said. “I thought the dog was dead, I really did.”

But when he emerged he found the hound “running around the yard.” In the interim, emergency crews had resuscitated the dog with a special animal-fitted oxygen mask, one of several donated by the Holly Springs Women’s Club.

Now the dog and his owners are recovering at a neighbor’s house. The town has estimated damage to the house at $200,000; its owners have lived there since its construction in 1997.

“The house, outside, looks fine. On the back, it’s completely devastated. It’s devastated inside,” said Andrea Connors, who lives across the street. “It reached all the way up to the front bedrooms – water damage and smoke damage.”

The family was the victim of a spontaneous reaction that can also occur with many petroleum-based oils, Smith said. The family apparently had left rags soaking in teak oil in a bucket on or near the back deck; as the oil evaporated, the temperature of the rags rose until a fire began.

To prevent accidents, the town recommends the storage of oily cloths in airtight metal containers; to dispose of cloths, the town suggests drying them on a washing line or soaking them in water before sealing them in a plastic bag for disposal.

The Holly Springs Fire Department conducted safety checks of the neighborhoods surrounding both the Sunset Fairways fire and another structural fire this month.

Kenney: 919-460-2608; Twitter: @KenneyOnCary

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