Off Beat: Man shows knack for spotting, fighting fires

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Dan Gregory has a knack for spotting fires. Nine days ago, the West Hazel Dell resident helped put out a fire that started in his neighbor's yard and spread to the garage.

And it wasn't the first time he's played neighborhood firefighter.

Gregory lives on Northwest 29th Avenue in Lakeshore Estates. He was using his new string trimmer on the afternoon of May 4 on the neighboring yard of an empty, foreclosed home when he looked up and saw a fire next to the garage of the house across the street.

It seemed like an odd place for a burn pile; when he saw flames creep up the side of the garage, he realized it wasn't intentional.

He dropped his trimmer, ran into his garage, where he grabbed a fire extinguisher, and yelled to his wife, Amee, who called 911.

The fire, which started in some bark dust, had apparently climbed up bundles of magazines and newspapers in a recycling bin next to the garage. He used up the extinguisher, but couldn't fully put out the fire.

The garage door was open with a car parked inside, so Gregory ran to the front of the house and pounded on the door to alert the occupant. There was no response. Then the first of four fire engines that had been dispatched rounded the corner.

Fire District 6 Capt. Kevin Todd said the vinyl siding quickly ignited and melted.

"Had it not been reported so quickly, it could have been much worse," he said after the fire was put out.

An elderly man inside the house had napped through the whole incident. The house has a working smoke detector, so if smoke had crept inside the house, the sleeping homeowner would have woken up, Todd said.

Two years ago, the foreclosed home's previous occupants dumped some used fireworks in a garbage can, which caught on fire. Fire melted the bottom of the garbage can. Gregory smelled burning plastic, saw the can burning and put out the blaze with a fire extinguisher.

Gregory, 38, said he is "too old" to become a volunteer firefighter.

"I just hope if that was happening to my house, someone would do that for me," said Gregory, a project manager for Skyward Construction.

He plans to buy another fire extinguisher soon.

— Patty Hastings

Off Beat lets members of The Columbian news team step back from our newspaper beats to write the story behind the story, fill in the story or just tell a story.