Off The Press

February 9, 2009

By Kathleen R. Merrill

I’m usually fairly groggy when I wake up and walk my German shepherd in the early morning dark before work.

Kathleen R. Merrill Press Editor

Kathleen R. Merrill Press Editor

But I woke up quickly the morning of Feb. 3 when I got to the sidewalk in front of my home and saw multiple fire engines and the block lit up like it was daylight down the street.

Being a reporter/editor, I had to know what was going on. I walked around the block and approached from the other end, with my dog in tow. (She really seems to like firefighters, at least the ones she met.)

We came upon two women and a man standing in the driveway of a home, and I asked them what was going on. Elizabeth Chubbuck pointed and said, “That’s my house.” Despite the fact that there was so much activity and smoke in the air, she seemed calm and collected.

Her friend, Michelle Mohrland, had come with coffee and had also provided moral support. Elizabeth’s dogs, Triscuit and Eleanor, were in her car in the driveway of the house across the street. Her cats, Dotti and Monkey, were also safe.At 5:40 a.m., “I remember the time exactly,” she recounted Feb. 9, she smelled “a faint plastic, burning smell. I thought it was odd, so I got up to be sure, trying to find where it was. I thought maybe it was outside, but it was strongest in my bedroom.

“I turned on the light switch in the closet and the light bulb blew, and then the light in the room wouldn’t turn on,” she said. “Then, I realized it was too warm in my closet, and it’s usually cold in there. I touched the ceiling and it was hot. I just went out and bee-lined straight to my daughter’s bedroom.

“I said ‘Elaine, fire in the house, get up and get dressed now.’ I grabbed the cat out of the bedroom and shut the closet door, closed the bedroom door, called 911, and opened the sliding glass door and let the cats and dogs out.”

She said she stayed calm because she thought it would help Elaine, 16, remain that way as well.

“When I stepped outside, there was smoke rolling out of the roof and vent,” she said. “I went back in and grabbed my purse, phone and keys and got out of there.”

Her car was in the garage. Firefighters let her get in to move it to a neighbor’s driveway.

“I wasn’t going to take a chance,” she said about getting anything else. “You always hear about people taking chances, going back in for stuff, and I wasn’t going to do that.”

The firefighters later told her she was taking things really well.

“We’re alive, my daughter and my animals are all safe,” she told me. “The rest of it can burn.”

In fact, everyone at the scene seemed calm and orderly. Firefighters actually pulled her clothes from her closet, laid them on her bed and covered them with plastic before cutting a hole in the ceiling there to get at the fire.

Eastside Fire & Rescue Capt. Steve Westlake told her that they don’t often get a chance to do such things, but they knew they had the time to and they like to take care of people. Elizabeth, Michelle and I stood there with our mouths hanging open for a moment.

“I thought, ‘Wow, that was really nice,’” Elizabeth said later. “I can’t believe they even bothered.”

Me either. Kudos to whoever thought of that.

Kudos also to her landlord, who was out of town at a funeral the day of the fire. He returned Thursday and has since had the attic rewired, ceilings replaced and the entire house professionally cleaned, Elizabeth said. He’s also going to give her a week’s rent back, she said, since she’s had to stay at a friend’s house.

She had two working smoke detectors, but they had not gone off, because the smoke was in the attic, not yet in the home.

Elizabeth said it was good to have a friend come right away.

“It was good to have a second set of ears, to hear things I didn’t,” she said.

And despite the fact that she did everything right, Elizabeth said she did learn a lesson.

“You can’t ever go by the adage, ‘It’ll never happen to me,’” she said. “People always think that, but it’s not the case. It will happen to you. It did happen to me.”

Major kudos to everyone involved in making sure that what did happen wasn’t worse.

Reach Editor Kathleen R. Merrill at 392-6434, ext. 227, or Comment on this story at

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