Rex Cox and a neighbor were on the front steps of their Remington rowhouses yesterday when they noticed thick black smoke billowing from a home a block away. As they ran toward the fire, one of them called the owner, Charles Krout, and told him his house was burning.
Krout, who was at work, said he asked them to do only one thing: Save his pets.
"All I was worrying about was the animals," Krout said about the two dogs and two cats in his Hampden Avenue house.
Cox ran to the alley behind the burning house as firetrucks roared up the street about 11 a.m. Firefighters put ladders to the second-story window, broke the glass and burst in through the front door, while Cox - unaware that firefighters had entered through the front - was forcing his way in through the back.
He shattered a kitchen window with a hammer and reached through to unlock the back door. He walked inside and got hit with a blast of thick smoke. Cox said he stepped outside and then went back in, this time finding a lighter. Cox said he believes the dogs noticed the light and came to him. And then he led them out the rear door to safety.
"As soon as they seen the light, they were running out the door," Cox said. "They were scared."
Within minutes, firefighters had nearly extinguished the fire that had mostly charred the second floor. Adjacent rowhouses in the 2700 block of Hampden Ave. were damaged, but fire officials said no one was hurt.
Firefighters climbed onto the roof and began to cut pieces of smoldering wood away from the building with a chainsaw. Krout and his wife arrived and were reunited with their two dogs: Kid, a 4-year-old German shepherd; and Tara, a 6-year-old golden retriever.
The dogs appeared to be in good health, though excited and thirsty, and a firefighter brought them water. "They're my babies," Krout said, adding that they had found only one of their two cats. Battalion Chief Steve Canter said he believed the second cat escaped but had not yet been found in the neighborhood.
The cause of the fire remained under investigation.