Dog saves family, and fire destroys house

Jan. 26, 2014 @ 08:40 AM

Tatia Johnson meant to get to bed, but after a long Friday she fell asleep in the recliner.

That and a dog may have saved her family’s lives, Johnson said Saturday morning, huddled in 26-degree air holding a photo album on the carport beside the smoking ruins of the family’s house at 488 Circle Drive in Hudson, two cars damaged by extreme heat and a driveway covered in a sheet of ice.

“It’s lucky I had not gone to bed because if I had been I don’t guess we’d be here,” she said.

Johnson spoke calmly even as she described the morning’s frantic scene.

Shortly before 6 a.m., as Johnson slept in the recliner, her dog Sissy, a black-and-white, mid-sized mixed breed, hopped up on her chair and whined as she pawed at Johnson’s chest. Johnson groggily opened her eyes and was alarmed to smell smoke.

“You couldn’t see anything,” she said.

She ran back to her closed bedroom to wake her husband, Tim, who searched for the source of the smoke while Tatia Johnson went to wake their daughter, Makayla, 15, whose bedroom door also was closed. Makayla wouldn’t wake up. Tim Johnson saw flames in the basement.

“He went down with two fire extinguishers, came up and said, ‘Get out of the house!’”

Tim Johnson went to wake Makayla as his wife went out the door. “I had to keep walking out just to get fresh air because you couldn’t breathe,” Tatia Johnson said. Then she went back in to get the family’s three dogs.

When firefighters arrived, they found fire in the attic, basement and walls, said Assistant Chief Norman Staines of the Hudson Fire Department.

The exact cause of the fire is under investigation by the Caldwell County Fire Marshal's office. The Johnsons had a fire in the fireplace Friday night.

Tatia Johnson said fire investigators told her that the fire probably had been smoldering for three hours before her dog woke her.

Looking at the house, its roof caved in and a firefighter poking out of the top, and a pile of snow formed at one corner of the house from the frozen mist of fire hoses, Johnson said it all probably hadn’t hit her yet.

“Still it’s like a dream.”