Boy, 9, acts on training when house catches fire

'He didn't panic, and he listened'
Jan. 01, 2014 @ 08:08 AM

While her two children and two others were in a bedroom playing video games about 9:20 p.m. Monday, Lisa Shoemaker smelled smoke and called out to her husband, Tony, to investigate.

"I heard a loud pop, and walked out the front door," Tony Shoemaker said.

In the darkness, he saw an eerie orange glow reflecting off the windshield of their Hyundai Sonata, so he walked toward the open garage door, where he then saw a wall of flames licking the garage ceiling. Near the flames was a gas grill, so he grabbed the propane tank and hurled it into the yard, then yelled toward the house for someone to call 911.

Inside, the youngest of the four children, Riley, 9, sprang into action. Riley remembered the fire escape lessons taught at Gamewell Elementary School by Gamewell Fire and Rescue prevention officer Cynthia Mullinax, and by the Boy Scouts. After those lessons, Riley had talked with his family about their fire plan, so Monday night he followed it: He yelled for the others to meet him at the front door, and then go to the house next door, the designated rallying point in case of a fire.

"If I didn't learn it, I might not have a family now," Riley said Tuesday.

"He followed the plan," Tony Shoemaker said. "He didn't panic, and he listened."

Meanwhile, Tony Shoemaker pulled the family's Jeep Liberty away from the garage of the house, at 4605 Calico Road, and got the two family dogs out of the basement.

As Gamewell and North Catawba firefighters arrived, the fire had spread to the attic. The ceiling in the bedroom where the children had been playing minutes before had collapsed into the room.

Firefighters quickly doused the fire, managing to save a tropical fish, an aquarium turtle and the family Christmas tree. But lost in the blaze were a Microsoft Xbox 360 game system and other presents.

The front of the Hyundai also suffered severe damage, but burned inside the garage was an older model Chevrolet Monte Carlo that Tony Shoemaker had restored four years ago with money left to him by his brother Barry, who died in 2008. The small-block 350-cubic-inch V8 engine was beefed up, and the body sported a silver paint job.

"That was my toy," Shoemaker said. "I drove it on nice days, and took it to car shows."

Shoemaker studied the scorched car Tuesday morning, while on a nearby shelf a melted toy inexplicably emitted periodic noise like a wounded animal.

Kevin Brown, Caldwell County's deputy fire marshal, said a cigarette butt that Shoemaker thought he had stubbed out in a flower pot in the garage earlier in the evening was the source of the fire.

"There was some gift wrapping and tissue paper nearby," Shoemaker said. "I guess it all went up."

Tony and Lisa Shoemaker have lived in the house, which was once owned by Tony's grandfather, since 2003. Because of the  fire, smoke and water damage, the family is staying temporarily with Tony Shoemaker's father, Rex Shoemaker, two houses away.