A Canaan family can thank their pet feline for alerting them to a pre-dawn April 1 chimney fire spreading into their rural home.
While fire officials do not recommend this move, having been woken by the family cat, one of the homeowners risked being inside the smoke-filled home to spray water at the living room ceiling with a garden hose to slow the speed of the flames.
There were no injuries but paramedics assessed the family of two adults and two children as it wasn't clear how much smoke they would have inhaled while they slept.
"The cat woke them up to a house full of smoke," Cody Stevens, Chester's volunteer deputy fire chief, recalled to LighthouseNOW in a phone interview. The man "got his kids and wife out and proceeded to do what he could to save his house." The cat, along with other pets, survived the ordeal.
Stevens arrived to the home, located at the corner of David Collicutt Road and Canaan Road, to find "heavy smoke rolling out of the gable ends and eaves and solid smoke three feet down from the ceiling."
Chester volunteer firefighters were summoned to the scene after 4 a.m. Meanwhile, Stevens had engaged the mutual aid protocol set-up for the area, which would draw other fire departments to the scene.
"It takes too long to wait until you get there to make those decisions," Stevens said.
Although the original call indicated a chimney fire, dispatch information suggesting someone was using a garden hose to keep control was a sure sign assets from Chester Basin, Western Shore, Martins River, New Ross, and two other departments from outside the county, were needed.
Emergency crews went inside the home and had to use tools and a power saw to get past a false roof and into the attic to knock down the fire.
"There weren't heavy flames," Stevens said. "There was a little flash-up, they hit with water. There was a fair bit of hot spots and extension."
Stevens said the blaze may have started as a chimney fire but it went unnoticed and spread into the main floor and into the roof.
"The liner cracked from the severe heat in the chimney and the creosote ran in between the liner and brick part of the chimney and was burning," he added, noting bricks had to be removed to get at flames.
Firefighters did their best to reduce the amount of loss, Stevens noted.
"There's a fair bit of smoke damage and some water damage but their house is still standing and will be livable within a short period of time."
He was not certain if the home was insured.
The Canadian Red Cross, an emergency social services charity, said the temporarily displaced couple and children are staying with relatives for the time being. In a news release, the agency said it helped "with funding for emergency purchases like food, cleanup supplies and some other basics."
Stevens said it is important to have properly working smoke detectors in a home and to ensure wood burning appliances and chimneys are regularly cleaned and maintained.
The cause of the fire is classified as accidental in nature.