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Neighbors’ quick action saves Claremont home

by Steven Felschundneff | steven@claremont-courier.com

Just before 5 p.m. on Sunday, December 27, a fire broke out in a home on Sumner Avenue in Claremont, but tragedy was averted after a tight-knit group of neighbors went into action.

Dean Raki and his friend Luke Podmers, of Minneapolis, were sitting on folding chairs in Mr. Raki’s driveway when they noticed some smoke but did not know where it was coming from. Looking down the street, Mr. Raki thought it could be coming from his neighbors, Jeff and Jenny Jones’ home. At first he thought it could just be a fire pit, but as he called Ms. Jones’ cell phone the smoke was becoming thicker.

At 4:45 p.m. Ms. Jones received a call from Mr. Raki who wanted to make sure everything was okay at the Jones household. Mr. Jones hurried into the backyard and caught a whiff of smoke. Peering over the back wall, Mr. Jones saw a neighbor’s home was indeed on fire, with smoke and flames billowing out of a rear window.

As Mr. Raki and Mr. Podmers walked toward the source of the smoke, they, too, saw it coming from the house and called 9-1-1.

Without a second thought, the group went into action. Mr. Jones went into the home’s backyard and spotted a hose, unfortunately it was not connected to a faucet. As Mr. Jones struggled to find a water source, Mr. Raki came around the corner with a hose from the front yard that was long enough to reach the fire. A window was open a few inches—just enough for Mr. Raki to spray water through to begin extinguishing the flames.

“Everything happened so fast, yet in slow motion. We grabbed a hose in the backyard, but it wasn't connected to a hose bib. And then in the panic (fog of war) we couldn’t find a hose bib,” Mr. Jones said. “Another neighbor came racing around to the backyard with a hose with the water on full blast. We threw a ton of water through the window until the flames disappeared. We then stopped for a moment wondering if it was enough, then the flames erupted again but higher, about head level and we continued putting water on the new flames as the FD arrived.”

As Mr. Raki worked to douse the flames, Mr. Jones’ son Nick Jones, 25, and Mr. Podmers focused their attention on rescuing the family’s animals. As they went around to the front of the house, another couple, Karen Simpson and Jeff Hubatka, produced a key which was fortunate, because access to the front door was blocked by steel bars.

“As I opened the door, their little white dog came right out, but the big older dog was in the kitchen and did not want to come out,” Mr. Podmers said. “Nick went down the hallway all the way to the room where the fire was but could not find the cat.”

He described the smoke as so thick that he could barely see, similar to car headlights disappearing into a fog bank. “It’s kind of surreal, but it’s scary and you don’t know what’s going on,” Mr. Podmers said.

As Mr. Podmers and Nick Jones exited the home, the fire department arrived and took charge, including rescuing the cat. A bird that was in the room where the fire broke out did not survive.

“With the extraordinary help of our fellow neighbors, we knocked down the flames with the home’s garden hose and helped remove the pets from the home. It was contained to one bedroom only—luckily the bedroom window was ajar, which led us all to the fire immediately. Thank God, because it could’ve been much worse under different circumstances,” Jeff Jones said.

He described the chain of events as literally a chain where each link fell perfectly into place to stop the fire from spreading and get the pets out safely. The homeowners, who wish to remain anonymous, returned about 15 minutes after the fire department arrived and were able to stay in their home Sunday night.

The Jones family has lived on Sumner for 17 years and said the neighbors at the home where the fire occurred were already living there at the time.

“In all honesty, the true story of it all is: know your neighbors, and love your neighbors as if they were your own family. Everything just falls into place perfectly after that formula is reached,” Mr. Jones said.

A number of comments on social media called the actions of the Sumner neighbors heroic, which seems an apt description. Of course, those involved demur that nothing they did was so extraordinary.

“We all fought this fire like it was our own home, because we know and love our fellow neighbors,” Mr. Jones said. “We’re truly not heroes. We did what we would’ve done with our own home. The ‘heroes’ are our relationships with our neighbors, period.”

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