By Michaela Gibson Morris
A Tupelo girl’s cool head helped save her family from a fire early Friday morning.
About 2:20 a.m. Friday, 8-year-old Laura Bates woke up because she was too hot to sleep and discovered her room was on fire in the 124 S. Madison St. duplex where her family lived.
“There were flames and red stuff on the bed,” said Laura, a Pierce Street School second-grader. “I knew exactly that it was fire. I yanked my baby sister out of bed, and we ran to my mama.”
Her parents got Laura and her 5-year-old sister Lindsay Bates out of the house and alerted their neighbors in the front half of the duplex.
“If it wasn’t for Laura, it could have been disastrous,” said her stepfather, Hank Neuschwander. “I’m just happy we’re all alive.”
The duplex had moderate damage from the fire, with the heaviest toll in three of the rooms in the back apartment where Laura’s family lived, said Tupelo Fire Inspector Thomas Walker. The rest of the house had heat and smoke damage.
“Those folks were very, very lucky, especially the girls,” Walker said.
Laura’s family lost practically all their tangible possessions in the fire, but her mother Barbara Neuschwander said they still have the most important things: their lives.
“I can live without anything in that house,” she said. “But I can’t live without my babies.”
The family’s cats, Missy and Callie, were rescued from the fire as well.
“That was her main concern,” Barbara Neuschwander said as she stroked Laura’s hair Friday afternoon.
Family members said they were especially grateful to emergency crews that responded to the early morning fire. A Tupelo police officer and his wife took the family into their home for a few hours, and firefighters helped her retrieve pictures from the walls, Barbara Neuschwander said. The family will be staying with relatives until they can find a new apartment.
Investigators have tracked the source of the fire to an outlet near the girls’ bunk beds, Walker said. The fire department plans to call in an electrical engineer to determine if the plug for the electric heater or wiring in the wall was responsible for sparking the blaze.
Because the fire started so close to the girls’ beds, it’s possible that the girls would have been overcome by the smoke before the smoke detector in the hall of the apartment sounded, Walker said.
Because of the increased risk of fire, safety experts recommend anyone using a separate heating unit in a bedroom install smoke detectors in that room for extra protection, Walker said.