Family escapes from Mathews house fire; pets perish

by Sherry Hamilton - Posted on Mar 20, 2013 - 01:58 PM

Photo: Though a family escaped this house fire on Callis Field Lane in Mathews Monday evening, their dog and three cats perished. Photo by Elsa Cooke Verbyla

Though a family escaped this house fire on Callis Field Lane in Mathews Monday evening, their dog and three cats perished. Photo by Elsa Cooke Verbyla

A family escaped a house fire on Callis Field Lane in Mathews Monday evening, but their dog and three cats perished.

Jason Cater of Mathews said he and his wife, Danielle Lea, and their children were playing Nintendo in the living room before dinnertime when they smelled a faint burning odor, but couldn’t pinpoint it.

He said the house, which they were renting, had no central heating and he was using electric heaters in the downstairs bedroom shared by his three children, Taylor, 9; Timothy, 8; and Tina, 5, as well as in the dining room, which the family used both as a living room and as the parents’ bedroom. Between the living area and the children’s bedroom were an entry hall with a stairway, and a larger, formal living room that was kept closed off with a curtain. It was unheated and largely unfurnished. The upstairs was also unused.

Cater said he checked the heater in the bedroom and found nothing amiss, then went back and once again got caught up in the Nintendo game. The next thing he knew, he said, the living room turned yellow-orange and when he looked, the children’s bedroom was on fire.

"It happened in minutes," said Cater.

None of the smoke alarms went off until the flames were visible, he said, and the single fire extinguisher he had didn’t work. He and Danielle bustled the children out of the house and into the car—only Taylor was wearing shoes, and no one had on a coat. Then Cater backed the car down the driveway to get it away from the house before running back, grabbing the water hose, and breaking a window in the back door to gain access and spray water on the fire. He cut his arm and later had to have stitches.