By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN
BG Independent News
Darla Baker’s desire to take the leisurely drive home Monday evening was fortuitous for a family unaware that their house was on fire.
“I don’t have to hurry home,” she remembered thinking as she drove from Perrysburg to her home outside Pemberville. “I’ll take these country roads.”
As she drove down Garling Road in Troy Township, she noticed some smoke from behind a house.
“I thought they were cooking outside,” Baker said this morning. “But then I thought – that looks a little bit more than a smoking grill.”
She took a closer look, and saw the siding on the house was melting. She hadn’t been paying attention to the road signs, so she had to drive to the end of the road to see that it was Garling Road. She called 911 and drove back to the house.
Baker, who recently had foot surgery, parked in a neighbor’s driveway and went to rouse the residents where the fire was growing.
“I can’t run, so I was hobbling over,” she said. “I beat on the front door and rang the doorbell.”
The owner, Steven Kern came to the door, and started trying to put out to fire with a garden hose. That was a futile effort. By that time the neighbors came over and together they got Kern’s wife, Jennifer out of the house in her motorized wheelchair.
“You could hear sizzling,” Baker said of the expanding fire. “Then stuff started exploding.”
Initially, she thought it might have been a gas grill tank exploding, but it turned out to be multiple oxygen tanks in the home. “It was crazy,” she said.
Baker said she asked Kern if they had been grilling out, thinking it possibly caught the house on fire. Kern said they hadn’t been, but that they had been having electrical issues with an addition put onto the home. Both Steven and Jennifer have physical disabilities.
“They put the addition on so it was handicapped accessible,” Baker said.
One dog was rescued from the home, but two dogs and three cats were lost in the fire. Baker said Jennifer Kern passed out in the neighbor’s driveway, and was transported to a Toledo area hospital.
“The fire department got there lickety split,” Baker said of the response by Troy Township Fire Department, which quickly set up a water relay. Neighboring departments joined in the effort to put out the blaze. “The trucks were five deep.”
“It was so hot and so windy,” she said. “The house was just melting.”
A woodpile at the neighbor’s house caught fire, but was extinguished by firefighters.
The Kerns were left with nothing, Baker said, noting the husband had no shoes and neither had their cell phones.
Baker, who owns and insurance company in Pemberville, called the Kerns’ insurance to help them find a place to stay.
“I stayed with the homeowner until it was out,” shortly after 9 p.m., Baker said. “I felt so bad for him.”
“I just keep thinking about it in my head. If I hadn’t stopped, no one else was around,” she said. The oxygen tank explosions roused some neighbors. “But by that time, it was too late.”
A neighbor thanked Baker for not just driving by.
“He said, ‘Thank God you stopped. She would be gone if you hadn’t stopped,’” Baker said.