A 14-year-old Town of Tonawanda boy woke up in the rear family room of his house to flames early Thursday morning. Initially paralyzed with fear, Dillon Guenther quickly regained his composure and alerted his family.
As a result, all five members of his family safely escaped from their two-story home on Belmont Avenue. But their eight pets died in the blaze.
The fire caused about $100,000 in damage to the house and $100,000 more to the contents.
“I’m so thankful Dillon woke up and we all got out,” said Heidi Guenther, the teen’s mother, who stood across the street from the heavily damaged house they moved into last October. “It happened so fast.”
The fire at the home on Belmont between Englewood and Cortland avenues was only a couple of blocks away from Ellwood Volunteer Fire Company, whose members responded just before 5:30 a.m. and knocked down the main blaze in about 20 minutes.
The cause of the fire started remains under investigation, Ellwood Fire Chief Gary J. Stuff said.
“There’s a lot of structural damage to the rear of the building,” said Stuff, who was uncertain whether demolition would be required. “A fire investigator is in the house.”
A Kenmore West High School student, Dillon said he was having difficulty sleeping Wednesday night and moved from the couch to a recliner before he finally drifted to sleep. Then he suddenly awoke.
“For some odd reason, I just woke up. I saw the flames in the back left corner of the room. They were about 6 or 7 feet away,” Dillon said between bites of a breakfast sandwich given to him by an aunt, who also brought along a pair of new sneakers for him.
“A neighbor said my senses must have woke me. At first, I couldn’t move. Then I jumped up and ran toward the stairs and shouted, ‘There’s a fire.’ No sooner had I said it, and the smoke alarm went off.”
“I hope they fit,” the aunt said of the sneakers, but that wasn’t a big concern for Dillon, who was heartbroken because Harrison, the family’s pet Pomeranian, died in the fire, along with six cats and a rabbit named Franklin.
“My stepfather tried to get back in the house to get Harrison, but it was too hot,” Dillon said.
“Thank God, Dillon woke us up,” said Bill Guenther, his stepfather. “All that matters is, we got out safely.”
The family’s other children were identified as Billy, 4, and Corey, 2. The Red Cross was called to assist the family who won’t be able to stay in their home any time soon.
The Guenthers said they would be staying with relatives.
Billy, packed up into a car to head to a relative’s home, refused to leave until his older brother gave him a hug.
Dillon excused himself for a moment from being interviewed, walked over to the car and bent into the back seat and gave the little boy a big hug.