Thursday, March 13th, 2008
By Margie Wuebker
Rockford couple feel fortunate despite loss
ROCKFORD - George and Candes Fetters look at the charred and gutted remains of their two-story home as George puts an arm around Darla, their 2-year-old Boxer.
"This dog saved our lives," George says of the early Sunday morning fire. "We wouldn't be here today if it wasn't for her."
Candes awakened shortly after 1 a.m. Sunday to find the pregnant dog in bed licking her face. She remembers trying to push Darla away and then hearing a faint noise from another part of the house.
"We had left the bedroom door partially open and I could see a glow on the walls," she says. "Only then did I realize the sound was coming from a smoke detector near the kitchen."
Candes says her first reaction was to grab something and smother the flames.
"George stopped me after hearing the hiss from (a propane) tank and told me to get out," she says.
He knew the tank, supplying fuel to a heater in an adjacent living room, was about to explode. He lifted his petite wife through the bedroom window and dumped her on the front porch. He quickly located Destiny, a 13-year-old deaf Sheltie Collie, in the dense smoke and handed her to Candes. With the other two dogs (Daisy and Darla) safe, George jumped head first through the window.
"Run!" he hollered to Candes while leaping off the porch just as the propane tank exploded engulfing the front of the home in flames.
George, an employee of Crown Equipment Corp. in Celina, had been scheduled to work the morning shift and grabbed his coat and boots from a bedroom chair. Candes, on the other hand, stood barefoot in the front yard with her flannel pajamas offering little protection from the frigid cold.
"Everything appeared to be on fire," she says. "Thankfully, our four children (ages 8 to 15) were spending the night with relatives. I don't know how they would have gotten out with flames racing up the stairs. The only exit route would have been the upstairs bedroom to the porch roof which caught fire when the tank blew."
Minutes seemed like hours after placing a 911 call at 1:19 a.m., Candes says.
Eight fire trucks and 48 firefighters from Rockford, Mendon, Willshire and Chattanooga responded to the home in the 2000 block of Winkler Road. A tanker relay brought in load after load of water from a pond 11/2 miles away.
"There wasn't much we could do because the house was engulfed in flames," Rockford Fire Chief Ralph Rhoades told The Daily Standard. "We could see the fire long before we arrived at the scene. The owners are lucky to be alive."
The couple brought their children to the scene Monday for a first look at the house they called home for nearly three years. Outdoor cats Angel, Sassy, Oreo and Shirley ran across the soggy yard to greet them. Even Buddy, a wandering chicken who comes and goes at will, put in an appearance.
The family peered into what had been the living room and saw nothing resembling a big-screen television and comfortable furniture. The only recognizable thing in the master bedroom was metal remnants of the box springs. Insurance adjusters say the unstable walls must come down while Rhoades pegs the loss at upwards of $125,000.
"Our house is nothing but a hollow shell filled with rubble," Candes says with tears in her eyes. "At least we're all safe. You can replace belongings; you can't replace people."
Relatives, friends, area residents, fellow members of Celina Baptist Temple and the local American Red Cross chapter have come to the family's aid.
The Fetters family currently is staying in a 39-foot camping trailer at Lakeside Village Resort in Wapakoneta while looking for a larger place to rent.
"We had an opportunity to use two rooms at a motel," Candes says. "This is a time when we need to be together not separated by walls. And we want the dogs with us. After all, we are alive today by the grace of God and our dog Darla."
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