A mother and her two teenage sons suffered minor injuries and their home was destroyed in a Friday evening fire in east Oak Ridge that was possibly caused by an electrical problem.
Vanessa Todd, 42, and her two sons, Takoda Todd, 14, and Tyler Todd, 13, tried to battle the blaze with a garden hose and rescue their two cats and one dog, but the flames were too powerful.
“The fire just burned my head,” Vanessa Todd said as she watched firefighters extinguish the flames at 413 East Drive. “It was so hot. I just turned around and ran back out.”
The soot-covered family was able to escape the fire, which started just before 5 p.m. Friday, although their hair was singed and they suffered from smoke inhalation. They were able to rescue their dog Kibo and one of the cats, Syrvio. The other cat, Buddy, is still missing.
Vanessa Todd said she had replaced a faulty electrical circuit breaker in the home, but when she turned it on Friday evening, she heard a hissing sound. So, she turned it off and had Tyler turn off the main power to the house.
It was too late, however. The home’s family room had already caught on fire.
A military widow, Todd tried to put out the flames with a garden hose, but when she realized she couldn’t, she told her sons to “get the animals and get out.”
“A garden hose just doesn’t put out enough water,” Todd said.
Still, the family made several attempts to go back in and rescue Buddy and put out the fire.
“This house is my life,” Vanessa Todd said. “Dying isn’t really an issue for me.”
Neighbors called 911 after the fire had burned about six to eight minutes, and it took firefighters another six to eight minutes to get to the house, Oak Ridge Fire Chief Darryl Kerley said. That meant the fire had burned for about 12 to 14 minutes before firefighters were able to start spraying water on it, and by then it had “flashed over” and spread to the attic.
Todd was worried that the fire destroyed the flag that once covered her husband’s coffin—he died while on active duty in 2002—as well as memorabilia of her sister, who died about 20 years ago.
“Those are things that I hold on to to make me stronger,” Todd said.
A construction company owner who restores historic homes, Todd said her family has lived on East Drive for seven years. The Red Cross helped out her family after Friday’s fire, which also burned Todd’s Ford pickup truck, with a two-night stay at Days Inn and a money card.
“She’s basically lost everything she owns,” Kerley said.
He emphasized that residents should not try to fight fires themselves.
“They need to get out, stay out, and call 911,” he said.
Fifteen firefighters and three chief officers responded to Friday’s blaze, and Kerley said a crew would watch the smoldering home, which was insured, throughout the night.