Bright orange flames erupted from the second story of a Merced home Thursday afternoon. Katie Haar says her sister was upstairs at the time and noticed the smoke, so they both rushed outside and called for help.
"I've lived here since I was 7. I'm 18 now, it's just really hard," said Katie Haar. "I'm just like, this is the house I grew up in."
Katie's boyfriend arrived moments later and grabbed one of the family's four dogs. Firefighters managed to save the rest. She said, "Oh my god, it was a relief they were okay, and before the firefighters got here my boyfriend ran inside and got my birds."
Fire investigators determined the fire started because the flue from a pellet stove on the second floor was improperly installed. It was missing a screen that prevents sparks from coming out.
Fire Chief Mike McLaughlin said, "It's still just a tragedy any time of year, but especially as we're coming into the holidays to have a family's home destroyed by fire."
Chief McLaughlin says more than twenty firefighters worked to save as much of the home as possible. They even salvaged several family pictures. But the unique design of the roof made their efforts more difficult.
"It's not something that's commonly seen, a lot of little hidden spaces we had to work hard to get into," said Chief McLaughlin. "And the shake roof construction also poses a risk."
Now as family members face the loss, they're thankful for what they still have.
"This could have happened at 2 o'clock in the morning and burned us all up, so god protected us," said Sandy Haar. "You can replace wood, you can't replace your family you love."
The family believes the smoke detectors in this house were in working condition. The fire chief says it's very odd they didn't go off, but it's possible the smoke drifted up away from the detectors.
The family is now planning to stay with relatives in town.