Woman, terrier injured in apartment fire
By ED QUIOCO, Times Staff Writer
PALM HARBOR -- A 26-year-old woman and her dog were slightly injured in a kitchen fire Thursday morning that was extinguished by a stranger who is studying for a career as a firefighter.
Firefighters say the incident also includes a valuable lesson about how not to fight a common type of kitchen fire. Often, they say, grabbing a flaming pot from the stove and rushing outside with it is the easiest way to get seriously burned.
The fire, reported at 10:39 a.m. at the Crystal Cove Villas on Alt. U.S. 19, started after Carrie Sheppard began making her weekly supply of stovetop popcorn and noticed smoke coming out of the kettle.
The cooking oil she had used to line the bottom of the large pot was starting to catch fire. When she raised the lid, the rush of oxygen into the pot caused a sudden burst of flames.
Startled and fearing the worst, she grabbed Dodger, her 2-year-old rat terrier, with one hand and the flaming kettle with the other hand. While trying to carry both out of her apartment, Sheppard burned her right arm and Dodger's whiskers were singed.
"I should have put the lid back on or left it on," said Sheppard, a recent transplant from Maryland. "Either that, or I should have remembered that the fire extinguisher was in the closet. But in the moment of panic, I just didn't think about that."
Carrying a burning pot outside exposes the flame to more oxygen which can feed the fire, said Palm Harbor Fire Rescue spokeswoman Kristy Patterson. Also, she said, whatever is burning could easily spill and cause severe burns.
"If you have a cooking fire, try to put a lid on it to suffocate the fire and turn off the heat source, if it's safe," Patterson said. "And if its not safe, you just evacuate, close the doors and call 911 from an outside phone."
Sheppard carried the burning pot to the sidewalk outside her apartment. Then, she got some help from the boyfriend of her next-door neighbor.
Shane Ficco, 19, was watching television with his girlfriend Bethany Genna, 20, when they both heard Sheppard's fire alarm. Ficco, who is taking classes at St. Petersburg College to be a firefighter, walked outside and saw the burning kettle.
"The fire just really scared her," Ficco said. "When I walked outside, there was a lot of smoke."
He helped Sheppard retrieve her fire extinguisher to put out the fire.
Things could have been a lot worse, said Palm Harbor Fire Rescue District Chief Ron Gray. A grease fire of that size could have easily spread to the kitchen.
"All large fires start small," Gray said.
Sheppard was taken by ambulance to Helen Ellis Memorial Hospital in Tarpon Springs. She was treated and released with minor burns on her right arm. Dodger was taken to Allen's Ridge Animal Hospital on Tampa Road with minor injuries.
"She just has burned whiskers, but they will grow back," Sheppard said.
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