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Barking dog saves Shelby County family from fire

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5 escape as home near Cropper burns

By Lisa King

The Travis family awoke just past midnight Friday to billowing smoke and flames that were hungrily devouring their small home near Cropper.

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But thanks to the vigilance of a small family pet they had time to escape with their lives.

“Emmie, she woke us up,” said Tina Travis, whose two daughters and other family members were also asleep when the fire broke out.

Jessica Roberts had been asleep for a couple of hours, Bagdad Fire Chief Rusty Newton said, when she was awakened by a dog barking.

When she went to see why Emmie, her small shih tzu, was barking, she found herself confronted by terrifying sight – a wall of flames in the living room.

Forced to turn back, she ran back to her bedroom, grabbed her baby son and looked around for another escape outlet.

Her bedroom window was at ground level in their 1-story manufactured home at 131 Bohannon Road, so she first lowered 7-month old Timmy to the ground outside and climbed out after him.

They were greeted by a blast of air as frigidly cold as the flames were scorching.

“Temperatures were down in the teens that night, that was why we had to have extra air packs,” Newton said, referring to self-contained breathing apparatus that firefighters carry.

But Jessica’s work was not done – her sister and mother remained inside the home, unaware that death lurked just around the corner.

Roberts ran to her sister Rachel’s bedroom window and knocked frantically on it, wakening her, Newton said.

Her younger sister, Rachel Travis, 17, climbed out into the frozen night to join her, and the pair raced to their mother’s window.

Tina Travis said she was able to get out of the house through the door, an escape that Emmie also made. But sadly another family pet was not so fortunate.

“Lucky, she’s my dog, she was a border collie. She was right beside me when I got to the front door, but when I opened it, she wasn’t there anymore,” Travis said. “They found her in the bedroom.”

Travis, a mail carrier at the Bagdad Post Office, said she is sad for the loss of her pet, but she is glad that her family is safe.

“We’re all fine,” she said. “Both my daughters, my son-and-law [Tim Roberts Jr.] but he wasn’t there, and my grandson.”

Rachel’s boyfriend, Dustin Hawkins, was also at the home, and also escaped safely.

Once outside the burning home, the family took off running down the road toward Tina Travis’ father’s house, who lived a short distance away.

“It was freezing cold that night, but I didn’t even realize we were barefoot until we got to Dad’s,” she said.

Travis’ father, Billy Bohannon, said he could not describe his emotions when the frightened group rushed to his home.

“I just couldn’t believe it,” he said. “All I could think of was that they were safe, but it sure brought back what happened twenty years ago, just like it was yesterday.”

That was when Bohannon’s son escaped a house fire with his life.

Travis said the family is coping with losing their home.

“The Red Cross was a big help to us, and we’ve had a lot of help from the churches and family and friends,” she said. “Right now our immediate needs are taken care of, so we’re doing pretty good.”

Newton said the cause of the fire has not been determined, but Travis said she thinks it must have been electrical in nature.

“We didn’t have a fire going or anything,” she said.

Travis said that since the fire Emmie has been treated like the hero of the hour.

“She’s been living pretty good these past few days,” she said. “If it hadn’t been for her, well, I don’t know what would have happened.”

Watching the baby stroke the dog’s soft fur, Rachel said, “Emmie will be seven [years old] in a few days and we are going to have a big birthday party for her.”

Billy Bohannon’s eyes grew misty as he watched his grandson pet the dog.

“We’re all together, and that’s what counts,” he said.