Thursday, April 17, 2014

Covering Dallas, Monmouth, Independence, Falls City and surrounding areas since 1868

She's a hero at home

PERRYDALE -- The television was too loud.

Jenna Lopez, left, and her family stand in the kitchen area where fire damage was heaviest after a Nov. 23 blaze.

Photo by Pete Strong

Jenna Lopez, left, and her family stand in the kitchen area where fire damage was heaviest after a Nov. 23 blaze.

December 11, 2012

PERRYDALE -- The television was too loud.

That is why Jenna Lopez, a fifth-grader at Perrydale School, woke up in the early morning hours on Nov. 23, the day after Thanksgiving.

Jenna, 10, was sleeping in the living room of her family's Amity home with her younger sisters Brooke, 9, and Caitlin, 5. They fell asleep watching TV while her parents, Phil and Amber Lopez, and brother Austin, 3, were asleep in their rooms.

The noise from the TV wasn't the only thing that caught Jenna's attention upon waking. Soon, she noticed something unusual -- a weird glow emanating from her home's back porch.

"I just saw this big, bright light and I didn't know what it was," she said. "I got a little closer and I saw flames going up into the air."

A fire was quickly spreading across the house's back porch.

Young Jenna was shocked by the sight but sprung into action regardless. She recalled Amity Fire Department firefighters visiting her school for a presentation on fire safety. Jenna knew what to do.

She darted to her parents' room and shook them from sleep, yelling that the house was on fire.

Phil Lopez said the moment Jenna woke him up was a blur. "You assume it's something small, something manageable," he said.

If his memory of Jenna waking him up is foggy, the moment he discovered the fire was serious is crystal clear.

"Luckily, the garden hose was still connected on that side (of the house)," Lopez said. "I just started spraying."

He was able to put out the fire on the porch, but he soon realized the fire had spread to the home's attic.

By that time, Jenna had helped lead her younger siblings out of the house while her parents rushed to put out the fire.

The family called 9-1-1.

Amity firefighters arrived a few minutes later to put the blaze out completely.

The fire caused the roof to cave in over the kitchen area andresulted in heavy smoke damage, but the Lopez family feels lucky. Firefighters were able to contain the blaze to one side of the house.


Photo by Jolene Guzman

Lopez' quick actions during the fire earned her a lifesaving award from the Amity Fire Department.

"We didn't lose anything too important, kitchenware and appliances," Phil Lopez said. "Nothing with sentimental value."

He said the firefighters were careful to preserve the family's dining room furniture and irreplaceable photos.

"We've hugged and thanked them a thousand times, almost to the point where they are sick of us," Phil Lopez said.

The family was safe and the house fixable, but it could have been a much different outcome if Jenna had not woken up and acted fast.

Bruce Hubbard, the Amity fire chief, said the home had only one smoke detector and it was on the opposite side from the fire. Chances are the home would have burned for some time without anyone knowing it if not for Jenna, he said.

Hubbard said the cause of the fire was a heat lamp used to keep the family's animals warm at night. It tipped over and ignited.

Jenna said she's grateful that her family and pets are all safe -- and for the firefighters who visited her school just weeks before the blaze to remind students what to do in case of a fire.

Jenna's parents have thanked her repeatedly for saving the family, something the brave girl doesn't feel is necessary.

"My mom and dad keep saying `Thank you. Thank you ...' and I said `It's OK. It was just a little thing,'" Jenna said. "It wasn't that big of a deal."

Needless to say, Phil and Amber disagree, and so does Hubbard. Amity Fire District presented Jenna with a lifesaving award Monday morning at Perrydale School in front of her peers.

"Jenna did a fantastic job," Hubbard said during the brief presentation. "People always look at firefighters as the heroes. In our volunteers' eyes, that night, Jenna was the real hero."

As for Jenna's parents, even weeks after the fire, they still can't describe how proud and grateful they are for her quick thinking.

"There are no words," Amber Lopez said.

The family was able to move back home just days after the fire, but repairs continue. For now, the whole family sleeps in one room of the 4,000-square-foot home.

That is just fine with them.

"We are squeezed in a 500-square-foot living room," Phil Lopez said. "We aren't quite ready to split apart yet."