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North Columbia family safe after fire destroys duplex unit

Saturday, January 25, 2014 | 6:50 p.m. CST; updated 12:11 a.m. CST, Sunday, January 26, 2014
A fire broke in a duplex in north Columbia on Saturday morning, leaving one of the units destroyed. Paul Trevino, 13, was sleeping on a couch a few feet from the fire. He awoke and alerted the occupants. It took firefighters about half an hour to extinguish the blaze.

COLUMBIA — A Columbia family escaped a Saturday morning fire that left a duplex uninhabitable.

Susana Gutierrez awoke to the sound of her smoke detector in her duplex at 7212 Wade School Road. She said that she originally mistook the beeping for her alarm clock and tried to hit the snooze button to get a few more minutes of sleep.

She said she didn't realize the apartment was ablaze until she heard her son, Paul Trevino, 13, yelling "fire." The fire broke out a few feet from the couch Paul was sleeping on.

As the family attempted to flee, Dana Shepherd, Susana Gutierrez's boyfriend, punched out a window to let out the smoke and tried to put out the fire. Unable to quell it, he was forced to leave with the rest of the occupants.

Firefighters arrived shortly before 7 a.m.

"It was a quick and hot fire," Capt. Martina Pounds of the Boone County Fire Protection District said.

When firefighters first arrived, a lot of smoke was billowing from the front door, so the rescue crews moved in aggressively, Pounds said.

Inside, the firefighters found Bear, the family's 5-year-old Shih Tzu-Yorkshire terrier mix, hiding under some clothing in a closet. The family's turtles in the lower level also survived.

It took firefighters about half an hour to extinguish the blaze. Three engine trucks, two tankers, a heavy rescue squad and an ambulance were initially dispatched to the north-Columbia duplex. Two more tankers were brought for additional support. Altogether, about 25 firefighters and rescue workers responded to the scene, Pounds said.

The fire appears to have started in the kitchen near the stove, Pounds said. The cause is under investigation.

The blaze caused between $70,000 to $80,000 in damage.

Ten people were in the duplex at the time the fire broke out — six in Gutierrez and Shepherd's unit and four in the adjacent one.

A firewall kept the fire from spreading to the other side of the building, which sustained minimal damage, said Robert Shatlain of the American Red Cross. The occupants of that unit need to wait a few days to allow carbon monoxide levels to subside.

The Red Cross assisted both families and found them temporary housing, Pounds said.

Although the fire ravaged her home, Susana Gutierrez said she was thankful. She said they were all still alive because of Paul's actions.

"My son saved us — really he did," Susana said. "If it wasn't for my son, we would have all suffocated and died."

Saturday was also Paul's birthday. However, his birthday cake was destroyed in the fire.

Supervising editor is Edward Hart.


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