A massive fire that consumed a garage and two vehicles parked in front of it Thursday night could have become even a greater tragedy if not for a conscious resident who followed the instincts, not the panic.
It was getting late, and Ana Villarreal, who lives near the affected property with her husband, Brock Bailey, and son Mark Bailey, was already sleeping when a weird banging noise woke her up.
“(At) 10:45 p.m. I heard the first bang, I thought it was a gunshot… I then could hear cracking, so I thought it was ice-breaking on the streets,” recalled Ana, who is the production supervisor at the Estevan Mercury.
People living down the street had cleaned ice in the middle of the night before, so she thought it was them again and decided to ignore it, until after a few seconds later, when she heard more noises that were even louder.
“I went to the window and I saw fire,” said Ana. “I saw a super big fire coming out of a house (garage). I went running into the living room, my husband was there, and I’m like, ‘There is a fire!’"
She grabbed the phone and called 911.
The call was made at about 10:50 p.m. regarding a structure fire in the 600-block of Isabelle Street. Members of the Estevan Fire Rescue Service, Estevan Police Service and Estevan Emergency Medical Services responded, but Ana noticed that there was nobody outside when she was calling.
“I started freaking out," said Ana, explaining that she was worried that if there were people they might burn alive. "I grabbed my coat, my shoes and went running, while my husband was on the 911 call.”
She noted that she chose a safe route to get to the house door, staying away from the fire. But then there was no sign of anybody.
“I started banging on the side of the house. And no one answered. The fire was (on the garage close to the house), but it looked like it was going onto the house. No one was waking up, so I thought I would break the window.”
She kept banging on a wall and yelling that there was a fire while looking for a rock when suddenly the owner came to the door. He sounded agitated.
“And then I heard a guy saying ‘What’s going on?!’ Obviously, he didn’t know there was an actual fire,” said Ana.
The homeowner later explained that they actually weren’t sleeping, but they were in the far end of the building, where they didn’t hear the noises and weren’t aware of the fire. But their little baby was sleeping in the area that was right next to the garage.
“He was in shock. I was like, ‘Get out!’” said Ana. “And then police pulled in.”
Ana forwarded the information to the police and they took over from there.
“The police asked the guy if there was anyone else. ‘Yes, I have a baby!’” recalled Ana.
Fortunately, his girlfriend and the baby made it out safely a short time later as well.
Firefighters arrived right away as well. Fire Chief Dale Feser said they discovered it was a garage fire. But while at the moment nobody knew if there was any damage to the building, Ana ran back home to pack a bag for the baby.
“I’m thinking, well, there is a baby. If they need anything, blankets, diapers. So I gave them a bag,” said Ana.
Quickly it became known that the house was fine, but the family still had to stay in the truck, so they took some of the essential supplies Ana brought.
Had Ana not responded the way she did, Feser believes the situation could have been worse.
Ana said she didn’t stop or second-guess any of her actions, except for breaking the window, which in the end wasn’t needed.
When firefighters arrived on the scene, they did note that there was structural compromise already occurring for the garage, so they wanted to establish defensive firefighting techniques as opposed to entering the structure itself. It was also noted that due to the proximity to the home, the fire department needed a defensive suppression stream to combat the flames.
“Exposure protection was immediately established to save the home from starting on fire,” said Feser.
The fire was brought under control within about 15 minutes of when they arrived at the scene.
“The home itself did suffer very, very light damage. It’s still able to be occupied, however, we did enlist the aid of the Red Cross here, and they did put them up for the night in the hotel … so they could get a restful night’s sleep while we continued to work, as it was going to go late into the evening.”
The garage itself was a total loss, and two vehicles parked in front of the home were damaged as well.
Fire crews remained at the scene until about 1:20 a.m.
The following days the fire scene attracted many by-passers, and the homeowner had to park his work truck in front of the house, to somehow prevent others from seeing it, as every time a vehicle would slow down or stop there, the dog went barking in the house, waking the baby up and putting more stress on the family. The homeowner also said he was very grateful to Ana for ensuring that she got their attention, got them out and brought things for the baby.
The cause of the fire remains under investigation.