Happy news about animals
For nine agonizing minutes, Gresham resident Barbara Belgrave struggled to breathe while trapped on the second story of her burning house until Gresham firefighters rescued her early Sunday, July 15.
“I didn’t think I was gonna make it, to be totally honest,” said Barbara, 51, over a cellular phone the day after flames destroyed her house and nearly killed her.
Barbara was sound asleep in her upstairs bedroom in the 1300 block of Southwest Walters Drive when her 12-pound cat, Cheba, pounced on her at 4:39 a.m.
Cheba has a bad habit of jumping on the bed and startling Barbara in the middle of the night, so she installed a baby gate in her bedroom door to prevent such rude awakenings.
But early Sunday, Barbara woke to the thud of Cheba jumping on her.
“She knew something was wrong,” Barbara said. “I really think that God worked through her.”
Thick smoke had filled the bedroom. Barbara closed the bedroom door and went to let some fresh air in through a window.
“In front of the house everything was lit up, just glowing,” she said. “I knew the house was on fire.”
She opened the window, but more smoke billowed in, so she slammed it shut. With her husband, Scott, away at work, Barbara weighed her options.
The woman has an imploded vertebra due to a car accident and uses a cane to get around.
“So I knew that if I jumped out the window, I’d break my back again for sure,” she said.
Grabbing the phone, she tried to call 9-1-1, but the line was dead.
Luckily, Barbara’s purse, containing her cellular phone, was in the bedroom.
What took place next is captured on a chilling, heart-stopping 9-1-1 tape.
Coughing, Barbara told the dispatcher that her house was on fire.
“It’s coming up through the floor,” Barbara said, referring to smoke floating up the air vents. “… I’m having trouble breathing. Everything’s getting black.”
Calmly, the dispatcher told Barbara to shove blankets under the bedroom door.
“I know that you’re trapped, you cannot get out of the window?” the dispatcher asked.
“I have a broken back,” Barbara explained.
The dispatcher told her to lay on the floor.
“Please hurry,” Barbara pleaded. “I can’t hardly breathe.”
She heard glass popping and household items breaking around her. Also, she heard her cat, which she’d trapped in the bedroom with her when she closed the bedroom door. The animal, too, struggled for breath.
The dispatcher reassured Barbara that firefighters were on the way and told her to breathe through a cloth, like a T-shirt. Barbara had already gripped her bed sheet over her mouth, hoping it would act as some sort of smoke filter.
“Oh please hurry,” Barbara moaned, panic creeping into her voice.
The lights went out and the sound of breaking glass grew closer. Barbara felt the floor radiating heat.
“I hear all kinds of things breaking, I’m so scared,” she cried.
Hot smoke seared her lungs and burned her eyes.
Barbara and the dispatcher talked about maybe moving toward the back of the house, where a police officer was standing by.
“The door’s hot,” Barbara said, touching her closed bedroom door. “I better not open it, I’m too afraid.”
“OK, good choice,” the dispatcher assured her.
Knowing firefighters were on the way, Barbara moved to the window but only saw flames. Although she told the dispatcher where she was – her window was the one above the first garage – Barbara opened the shades so firefighters would know what window to go to.
Then she scrambled back to the floor in the hopes of finding more oxygen.
Meanwhile, her cat came out of hiding and Barbara grabbed it.
“I can’t breathe,” she said just as firefighters pulled up. “I’ve got my cat right here, too. Please hurry.”
Per the firefighters’ instructions relayed through the dispatcher, Barbara went to the window.
“They’re coming to me now,” she said.
The tape picks up the sound of firefighters Peter Graves and Lt. Rick Sieverson banging on the window.
Barbara opened it.
“Come on ma’am,” one of the firefighters said,
“Take the cat,” Barbara replied, shoving Cheba into the man’s arms. Panicked, the cat jumped away and scurried off.
Barbara made it to fresh air and solid ground, where paramedics treated her by giving her oxygen.
She got out just in time.
“I think I had one or two minutes and that was it because I wasn’t hardly breathing at all when they finally got me out,” Barbara said.
Gresham Fire Inspector Robert Mottice said the electrical fire caused about $350,000 damage to the $400,000 house, and destroyed an estimated $150,000 in contents.
“It’s toast,” Barbara said, adding that what’s still standing will most likely be knocked down and rebuilt. The house is insured.
She said a faulty electrical strip that powered the home’s computer and associated electronics likely sparked the fire, which started in the house’s first-floor office, located below and next to the bedroom Barbara was trapped in.
Ironically, Barbara’s husband works as an industrial electrician.
The two are staying with his parents in North Portland. It will take at least six months for them to rebuild their home, but they plan to stay in Gresham.
On Monday, a day after the fire, Barbara’s eyes and lungs still burned. But she was counting her blessings and dubbed her rescue a miracle.
She talked about the “phenomenal” 9-1-1 dispatcher who helped her through it all.
“I’m hoping to meet her sometime,” Barbara said.
And she credited Gresham’s well-trained firefighters.
And she is indebted to her cat, which in another ironic twist, sparked a fire a month ago that caused $10,000 damage to the living room. Cheba knocked over an electric heat gun used in crafting, accidentally turning it on.
Barbara hopes to find the cat, a grey kitty with white paws and chest and is implanted with a microchip that can be used to locate its owners.
Meanwhile, Barbara is stopping by the ruins of her charred home and putting out cat food to draw Cheba from out of hiding.
“She’s out there someplace, I just don’t know where yet,” Barbara said.