A fire destroyed a garage off Lou Morgan Drive in Sterling on Friday morning, but a passing motorist's quick action prevented any injuries to the family sleeping in a home next to the structure.
At around 9:40 a.m. Friday morning, 30-year-old Aaron Reynolds was driving from his home into town along Lou Morgan Drive when he saw smoke coming from a 17-by-32-foot wooden garage next to a house on a side road about 75 yards through the trees. He backed up, drove down the side road and up to the house at 37040 Tallarico Drive.
"There was no wind so there was just white smoke going straight up," Reynolds said. "As the fire started getting bigger it was turning more black."
"I realized there that definitely this wasn't right, you know."
He called 911 and as he was on the phone with a dispatcher he went to the house and knocked on the door. It took some insistent knocking to roust the woman and two young teenagers asleep inside, Reynolds said.
"I had to beat on her pretty good," he said.
The woman came to the door first.
"She was very much in shock, of course. She was still sleepy, you know, just getting woken up," Reynolds said. "She rounded up the kids there and they rounded up a couple animals and got out of the house. But they were in no real immediate danger because the house was probably a good 50 feet from the garage."
By that time flames were licking up from the rear roof of the garage.
"Just minutes after I first seen the smoke you immediately started seeing flames coming out the top of the roof."
Central Emergency Services responded to the fire with three tankers, one engine, a medic unit and two command vehicles. The fire was declared under control within eight minutes of firefighters arriving on the scene, but not before the garage was a total loss. Damage was estimated at $40,000.
"It was so fast," Reynolds said. "By the time they had got their hoses rolled out it was pretty much gone. The whole thing was totally engulfed in flames. Between five and 10 minutes it was gone."
The garage served as a storage area. All the contents were destroyed, but Reynolds said he didn't see much in there. According to CES, the structure had no drywall in the interior to slow the spread of the fire. Fire investigators decided the fire probably started from malfunctioning wiring to a light fixture. The fire burned the structure from the top down.
Reynolds said he'd seen a house burn down once when he was in elementary school in Oregon, but this fire didn't take as long.
"This was definitely faster," he said. "This was extremely fast. It's amazing how fast the thing went up."
CES lists the home's owner as William Edwards. Reynolds thought the woman and kids staying there were renters.
Reynolds continued on his way after about a half hour, by which time CES had the structure completely doused with water. Though the fire wasn't as damaging as it could have been had it spread to the house, it still caused Reynolds to think of "what ifs" at his own home.
"I tell you what, it does wake you up a little bit," he said. "It opens your eyes to what can happen. I think I'm pretty well covered at the house, but a sprinkler system wouldn't hurt."
Clarion reporter Matt Tunseth contributed to this story.
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