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April 17, 2014

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Action By 'Good Samaritan' May Have Saved Men, Dogs

Sun Photo by O.J. Early

This house at 401 E. Church St. was heavily damaged by fire late Saturday night. A warning from a passerby about the fire, which started at the front of the house, may have saved the lives of two men who were in the back of the home and did not realize until her warning that the front of the structure was burning.

Originally published: 2013-03-25 10:40:53
Last modified: 2013-03-25 10:42:34

Action By 'Good Samaritan' May Have Saved Men, Dogs



Two Greeneville men, and the two dogs they love, may owe their lives to a Good Samaritan who noticed a little smoke at their house late Saturday night and decided to check on it.

Susan Houser was driving up East Church Street on her way home from her job at ComCare shortly after 10:30 p.m. Saturday when she noticed a little smoke at the left end of the porch at 401 East Church: a small white frame house on a hilly lot at the intersection of East Church, West Sevier Heights and Frazier Street.

She said in an interview Saturday night that her first impression was that someone might be cooking out on the front porch.

But for some reason, she decided to do a U-turn about a block or two later, and headed back toward the house with the smoke.

When she reached West Sevier Heights, she turned right and stopped her car after a short distance. By that time, she said, she could see that the front of the structure under the front porch was on fire.

She quickly called 911 on her cellphone. It was 10:40 p.m.

Perhaps overhearing her voice outside, Billy Evans, 41, the owner of the house, and a friend, Michael Wilkinson, who said he works out of town but often stays with Evans, came out on the back porch of the home from the kitchen, casually smoking cigarettes, and asked Houser "if everything was all right."

"I said, 'No!! Your house is on fire!" Houser told The Greeneville Sun in an interview at the scene Saturday night.

To her astonishment, Evans and Wilkinson immediately pulled their shirts over their faces, leaving their eyes uncovered, and rushed back into the house to try to find Evans' two small dogs: Toby, a Yorkie terrier "about 3 years old," and Gracie, a standard white poodle ":about 10 or 11."

Houser said she shouted to them, "No! Get out! Get out!"

Searching for the dogs, Evans and Wilkinson ran from the back of the house, which was not on fire, to the front, which was ablaze, but the heat and smoke there were so bad that they had to pull back without locating the dogs, they said.

When an air conditioner on the front porch exploded, they retreated out the back of the house.

To both men's obvious relief -- and joy -- both dogs survived the fire. Both pets had escaped the burning house on their own.

Toby was discovered nearby by firefighters, and Gracie was spotted by a neighbor, given shelter, and later returned to Evans.

Meanwhile, every available Greeneville Fire Department unit -- four trucks and a couple of smaller vehicles -- had rushed to the house.

Officers of the Greeneville Police Department blocked traffic on East Church Street above and below the fire scene.

A unit of the Greeneville Chapter of the American Red Cross also responded to the scene to assist both firefighters and victims.

GFD Lt. Tony Williams Jr., the officer in charge of Fire Department units, said that he could see flames leaping high into the night sky when he came through the intersection of East Church and College streets.

"I was just hoping there was nobody in there," he said shortly before midnight Saturday as firefighters continued to deal with remaining small pockets of fire and smoke.

Especially the front areas of the interior of the house were badly damaged by the fire, but Lt. Williams said it was not yet clear whether the house would be a total loss. Williams estimated the damage to the structure and contents at $70,000.

The last GFD unit left the scene at 1:35 a.m.

He said Sunday that the fire department investigation indicated that the fire had probably begun because of a short circuit from the breaker box, which was outside at the front of the house.

Evans told Williams that he carried insurance on the house, where he said he has lived for some 12 years.

With both Evans and Wilkinson safe, and both dogs known to be safe as well, the two men spoke with Houser in the street in front of the partially blackened house about 11:45 p.m. as firefighters continued to mop up the fire.

Both men expressed deep gratitude to Houser for warning them.

Obviously greatly relieved herself that things had turned out as they had, she responded with a broad smile, "I'm just glad you guys got out!"

For more information and stories, see The Greeneville Sun.

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