Chief says truck driver saved couple from burning home early morning in Veyo

ST. GEORGE — A couple was spared after their home in Veyo caught fire early Tuesday morning, when a semitruck driver spotted the flames and not only woke the pair – but went into the home and carried one of them outside to safety.

Flames shooting from a residence during an early morning house fire on Center Street that leave a home destroyed in Veyo, Utah, June 8, 2021 | Photo courtesy of Brandon G. Humphries, St. George News

Shortly after 3 a.m., a structure fire was reported on Center Street in Veyo involving a home where flames could be seen coming from the corner of the residence. A semitruck driver was heading west on Center toward state Route 18 when he saw the flames and called 911, Veyo Fire Chief Chris Larsen told St. George News.

Larsen said when the driver saw flames coming from the rear of the home but saw no one outside, he feared any occupants still inside may be asleep and unaware that a fire was burning in their home. He reportedly pulled on the horn to alert the residents, and when there was still no activity he went to the front door and banged on it loudly until one of the residents answered.

The driver made sure the couple was safely outside, which is where fire crews found them minutes later, the chief said. Once on scene, firefighters found the west corner of the home engulfed in flames, and crews began tackling the blaze to prevent it from spreading through the rest of the structure. They also learned of the good Samaritan who “had disappeared” before they arrived, Larsen said.

The fire was also burning through the attic and into the trusses, he said, and the blaze continued extending through the length of the home – nearly destroying the entire structure supporting the roof.

Crews continued tackling the blaze until it was contained, and shortly thereafter, the flames were extinguished before the fire had the chance to destroy the rest of the home.

Just over one-third of the structure was destroyed by fire, particularly the living room and a storage room near the rear of the home, while the remainder of the residence sustained extensive smoke and water damage.

Larsen said that crews remained on scene until just after 8 a.m. to ensure that any embers that could smolder and then reignite were completely extinguished.

The outcome of the blaze could have been unimaginably worse, he said, had the truck driver not stopped and taken the time to awaken the couple and alert them to the blaze burning through their home.

“That’s straight hero stuff right there,” he said, referring to the driver’s action’s.

When St. George News went to the scene of the fire on Tuesday afternoon, Enterprise Mayor Brandon G. Humphries, who was on scene, said it was the home of his aunt and uncle, Shelly and John Bowler, that caught fire. He also said the couple was sound asleep when the fire broke out, and it was the truck driver’s efforts that saved their lives that night.

Not only did the truck driver pull on the horn, ring the doorbell and bang on the door until they woke up, but he also carried his uncle, who has a medical condition that severely limits his mobility, out of the home. It was only once the couple was far away from the fire and safe that the driver “took off,” Humphries said.

Humphries spoke to the driver on Tuesday, who told him he was heading west on Center Street in his hay truck when he noticed flames coming from the corner of the home. Humphries said the fact the he saw the flames “was amazing” because the fire was burning on a corner that was opposite from the road.

“I still have no idea how he was able to see that fire,” Humphries said.

He also said that his aunt woke up first and went to the back door first, not knowing where the ringing and banging was coming from, but when she opened the rear door she was confronted with huge flames, and he said it wasn’t until she went to the front door that she spoke to the truck driver.

Chief Deputy State Fire Marshal Todd Hohbein was also called out to the scene to assist in the fire investigation. He told St. George News the fire started at the rear of the home from discarded rags on the back patio containing an oil-based stain that were used to stain a picnic table earlier in the evening.

Fire spreads through front of home on Center Street that is destroyed in the blaze that started in the middle of the night in Veyo, Utah, June 8, 2021 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

The chemical reaction that ensued caused the rags to spontaneously ignite, and the flames then spread from the rags toward the home until the outside corner caught fire – and from there it quickly spread, he said.

He referred to the truck driver as a “guardian angel” he said, adding that the driver “was certainly at the right place at the right time,” and commended the man’s heroic actions.

Unfortunately, he said, the home suffered so much damage that it is unsalvageable – at least from an insurance standpoint.

Hohbein also said that oil-based stains and wood finishes or varnishes have a tendency to spontaneously heat as they dry and cure, so if rags or cloths wet with these finishes are mishandled, the spontaneous heating can accelerate and lead to ignition and a fire. The ignition is caused by an oxidation reaction, or spontaneous heating, that can occur with or without the presence of light, he said, similar to what happened in the Veyo fire.

There are several such fires reported across Southern Utah each year, he said.

He also said that each can of stain is labeled with a warning and contains information on proper handling. The warning may be in very small print, he said, but if it is too small then have someone else read it, as following the manufacturer’s instructions is extremely important. He said rags or cloths soaked with oil-based stain or varnish should never be piled up or thrown in the trash while they are still wet.

Instead, rags can be placed in a container with a tight fitting lid, or inside of a Ziplock bag that is then filled with water and sealed, which will prevent the stain from oxidizing or heating up, and then they can be discarded.

Having said that, it is still important to follow the manufacturer’s instructions anytime you are working with oil-based stains and finishes, he said.

The Veyo Fire Department responded and mutual aid was provided by Dammeron Valley Fire, the Brookside Fire Department and the Central Fire Department. The Washington County Sheriff’s Office also responded to assist.

This report is based on statements from police, emergency personnel or other responders and may not contain the full scope of findings.

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Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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