Family says dog was fire alarm

A firefighter checks on a house on Doar Road in Awendaw, where a Jack Russell terrier was credited with saving the lives of a couple as fire raged through their home early Monday morning.

AWENDAW — After a smoke detector’s squeal fell short, a Jack Russell terrier’s bark saved the lives of Kieran and Barbara Mays when a fire broke out as they slept early Monday.

About 4:30 a.m., one of their five dogs jumped into bed with the snoozing couple inside their single-story house on Doar Road.

When they tried to open the bedroom door, the duo was met with flames and smoke. Instead, the married couple and their critters managed to climb safely through a window.

“They were really lucky,” their neighbor, Ann Marie Maggitti, said after the blaze was extinguished. “I was upset at first because I could see that their bedroom was all on fire. But then I saw (Barbara Mays) standing outside with a dog in her arms.”

Shaken by the inferno, the couple were examined at the scene by paramedics but were unhurt, a fire official said.

It wasn’t immediately known what caused the fire that was engulfing the home’s attic and living room when rescuers arrived. Flames quickly burned the contents of the entire structure at 8554 Doar Road, charring the bedroom where the couple had been resting.

Kieran and Barbara Mays are lovers of the Jack Russell breed. Recently, they sheltered two terriers whose owner had suffered a stroke and was unable to care for them, according to an online posting. Neighbors said they’ve cared for up to seven dogs at one time.

On the couple’s Facebook pages, four of the dogs sit on a bed in one picture captioned with their names: Dakota, Dru, Dillon and Darcy.

Kieran Mays, reached by telephone Monday, declined to speak about their pets other than to say that the story of heroism was true.

Their 1,170-square-foot house was insured.

“The dog did wake us,” Kieran Mays said. “All of them got out. ... I just don’t want to say anything more at this time.”

For first-responders, the blaze presented a challenge that is common in rural parts of the Lowcountry where fire hydrants are scarce. Three members of the Awendaw Fire Department’s nine-person shift were dedicated to shuttling water from a hydrant more than a mile from the scene.

After the fire was reported at 4:39 a.m., crews needed about 30 minutes to control the flames and another hour to extinguish them, according to Chief Tommy Norris. Teams from the Mount Pleasant Fire Department helped.

A project to boost the number of hydrants in the town is progressing, but Norris said such infrastructure takes time and money to install.

“Every day, we face a lot of challenges that other departments don’t,” Norris said. “We still had fire in the attic, and that’s never a good sign. But I believe we could have saved more of this home if we didn’t have those challenges.”

Meanwhile, Norris said, homeowners should equip their homes with several smoke detectors and fire extinguishers.

That the Mays family didn’t notice their detector going off Monday isn’t unheard of. Such an occurrence is documented in studies by fire scientists, Norris said.

“The smoke alarms were working fine,” he said. “This happens a lot, unfortunately, especially with children.”

Outside the home’s skeleton, glass littered the lawn. Wilted from heat, blades on outside ceiling fans drooped toward a wraparound porch. Thrown in the backyard, a sign saying “Warning: guard dog” featured the fierce scowl of a German shepherd.

Cooled, blackened embers speckled a neighboring yard where Maggitti was tending to her blueberry bushes Monday morning. Maggitti and her husband had been worried that their own house or the woods near it, parched from recent dry weather, would ignite.

But the ground was still wet from showers the night before.

“Those flames were really high,” Maggitti said. “But the Lord answered our prayers. He gave us rain at just the right time.

“I’m just glad my neighbors got out.”

Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede.

Andrew Knapp is editor of the quick response team, which covers crime, courts and breaking news. He previously worked as a reporter and copy editor at Florida Today, Newsday and Bangor (Maine) Daily News. He enjoys golf, weather and fatherhood.