PILOT ROCK — A newly installed smoke detector and a neighbor pounding on the front door likely saved three members of a Pilot Rock family when their home erupted in flames early Saturday morning.
Ashly Staggs said she and her husband, Michael, and 7-year-old daughter, Mya, are hard sleepers. The loud banging on the door and the wailing of the alarm wrenched her awake, however, and she immediately realized they were in trouble.
“The smoke in our house was so thick I couldn’t see the furniture,” said Ashly, who was so adrenalized she ran to the front door and ripped the chain from its bracket instead of sliding it free. Her neighbor, Dawn-Marie Davis, stood on the porch looking worried.
Ashly yelled to her husband to “Grab Mya — the house is on fire.” Mike jolted awake, not immediately comprehending, then ran to roust his daughter. The pair dashed for the front door, falling in the living room before escaping the smoky house. Outside, the family watched flames crawl onto their roof as firefighters started battling the blaze at about 5:30 a.m. Mike described his frame of mind at that point as “distraught.”
Neighbors from across the street took Mya, while Ashly started rounding up pets — three dogs and three cats.
“With all the people safe, I was scared for my pets,” she said.
At one point, the family’s 13-year-old cat, Tigger, tried to run back inside.
“We think Tigger ran back in to see if our daughter was still in bed,” Ashly said. “They are very close.”
Ashly grabbed the feline, but then he disappeared again. Hours later, they found him hiding inside a tipped-over garbage can.
The house is owned by Ashly’s mother, Deborah White, who lives there on a part-time basis and wasn’t home. The structure was gutted and everything inside either consumed by fire or heavily damaged by water or smoke.
Firefighters responded from Pilot Rock, Pendleton, Echo and East Umatilla County. Umatilla County Fire District No. 1 Chief Scott Stanton said the Pilot Rock Fire Department had responded to the home on Oct. 10 for a carbon monoxide alarm.
“They determined that the alarm was not functioning properly and that there were no working smoke alarms in the residence,” he said.
Alarms were recently installed.
“The combination of a newly installed smoke alarm and a neighbor knocking on the door alerted the residents to the fire,” Stanton said.
According to Stanton, the cause of the fire was determined to be a stove burner that ignited items on the stovetop.
Numerous photos covering the living room walls are now ash. The loss of one photo in particular distresses Ashly — the image of her Italian great-great-grandfather encased in its original frame and beveled glass.
A few possessions survived the fire, including two iPhones and an iPad in a bedroom. Mike’s Otterbox case melted, but his phone survived. After the fire marshal said it was safe to return, Ashly dug around for Mya’s beloved stuffed bear. She found it on a bed, wet and covered in charcoal. A neighbor, Mindy Williamson, laundered it and returned it smelling faintly of smoke to a grateful Mya.
Mya’s four Rhode Island Red chickens survived the fire because of a quick-thinking neighbor. Michael Ford noticed the laying hens in their coop connected to the back of the house and sprayed them with a garden hose as the fire burned. The chickens seem alright. Two of them laid eggs the next day.
The family is living in a Pendleton motel, trying to develop a plan for going forward. They will help Ashly’s mom deal with the insurance claim. They’ll concentrate on finding a new place to live and figuring out a way to replace clothing and other possessions.
“Ashly owns a pair of slippers, a hoodie and a pair of sweat pants,” said Samantha Hall, a longtime friend who grew up with Ashly in Pilot Rock. Hall, now a firefighter in Seaside, spent some of the weekend setting up a GoFundMe account (titled “Staggs family fire”) to help with expenses.
“Absolutely anything will help them,” Hall said. “They are starting from scratch and even $5 can help buy a pack of socks.”