Cats are reputed to have nine lives, and, luckily, their owners had a couple to spare as fire razed a Carey home, possibly sparked by a heating lamp left on the back porch to keep the family's felines warm.
Incident commander Dennis Patterson, chief of the Carey Fire Protection District, said the fire ignited "very quickly," but a fortunate chain of events led to a quick response by rescuers. Although the house could not be saved, its inhabitants, 67-year-old John Conrad, his wife, Edith, also in her 60s, and an infant granddaughter, all made it to safety thanks to some "heroic efforts" by neighbors, firefighters and businesses in the area.
"The people from Northwest Door and Mill were instrumental in contacting 911 and going over and helping with the rescue," Patterson said.
Tom "Zippy" Mattias, an employee with Northwest Door in Carey, said he was pulling in to work when he saw thick, black smoke pouring from the Conrads' house.
"I pulled in back, saw smoke, and sure enough, right then there was ignition of a big, orange flash. I ran into the shop shouting that there was a house fire and to call 911," Mattias said.
Firefighters from Carey and Wood River responded at 7:33 a.m. Monday to a call for a "fully involved fire," at the two-story home on Queens Crown Road located near the junction of Highway 20 and Highway 26 in Carey.
"The flames were as high as the trees, which are 25-feet tall," Patterson said, "and it happened really fast. Kyle Green, a deputy in Hailey, was driving to work and nothing was showing. By the time he got to Picabo the call came out for a fully involved fire."
By then, Mattias and his co-workers, 21-year-old Max Adamson and 46-year-old Dennis Dawson, were helping Edith Conrad and her granddaughter to safety.
"We got grandma and the baby out the door and when she wanted to go back in for her dog and car keys and purse we didn't let her," Mattias said.
"The whole house was engulfed at that point."
Edith informed the men that John was still in the home, and Adamson, who grew up in the area and is familiar with the home, shouted for Conrad to go to the balcony.
"Max was the man," Mattias said. "He yelled and yelled for Conrad, who gets around with a cane, to go the balcony."
Jared Larna, an operations official and firefighter at Friedman Memorial Airport, was driving to work when he saw smoke and pulled onto the scene.
"When I got out it was a very active fire. The entire house was full of pressurized black smoke," Larna said. "We heard there was still someone inside, and we tried access in the first floor entry, but the smoke was down within six inches of the floor. We went around back and still couldn't get in."
By that time Conrad had made his way to the balcony, but was overwhelmed by smoke, according to Larna.
"Somebody hoisted me in the roof and I saw that he was there. I was overcome by smoke, went down, but went back up. We started punching holes in the balcony and yelling at him. He was non-responsive at that point. Two of us (Larna and Dawson) pulled him through one of the holes and dropped him to the guys below. He never hit the ground."
The rescue came within a whisper of being too late, Mattias said.
"We are lucky we got to him when we did, because the whole place went up right after that. It was over in 10 minutes. I am glad he didn't die."
Both Conrads and Dawson were taken by ambulance to St. Luke's Wood River Medical Center near Ketchum where they were treated for smoke inhalation, according to Bart Lassman, chief of Wood River Fire and Rescue. John Conrad was later transported to the Veteran's Administration Hospital in Boise for further treatment. Lassman said in addition to smoke inhalation, Conrad suffered second-and third-degree burns on his hands, forearm and back of the neck.
Larna was treated for smoke inhalation as well, but drove himself to the hospital.
Patterson said Carey firefighters were on scene until 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, quashing hot spots, steam and smoke, and mopping up.
"I would say the house is a total loss. Just a total loss," he said.
A benefit fund has been set up to help the Conrads. Donations can be made at any Wells Fargo Bank or Ireland's Bank in Carey under the "John & Edith Conrad Benefit Fund."