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Carriere family promotes fire safety after their home burns down

One Carriere couple’s family fire drills kept their four children safe when their home burned down last week.

On Tuesday, Feb. 2, Stephen Vargo only stepped away from the from the food he was preparing in the kitchen for a moment, but it was long enough for a grease fire to start.

It only took two minutes for the family’s home on Rock Ranch Road to catch fire, said Laken Vargo. The two-story home burned completely over the next three hours.

The couple has four children, two 4-year-olds, a 6-year-old and an 11-year-old. All four were home at the time of the fire, but thanks to regular family fire drills, they knew where to go and how to escape safely, said Laken Vargo.

The children followed the family evacuation plan and quickly gathered at the mailbox in the front yard, as far away from the home as possible without being in the road.

“There’s no telling what could have happened if we didn’t practice the fire drills,” said Laken.

The family practices fire drills and changes the batteries in their smoke detectors twice a year with the time change.

“As a parent, it makes you proud that the one time it comes down to doing everything you taught them and showed them that they actually did it to a ‘T’,” said Stephen.

The family’s bull terrier ran back into the home, and although the children wanted to go in after her, the fire drills helped prepare them to be patient and wait for her to come back out. Fortunately their patience was rewarded, because the family dog came back out of the house and was also safe from the fire.

When the fire happened, Laken Vargo took her children to the neighbor’s yard and asked them to take each other’s hands while she prayed.

“When we all said ‘Amen’ together after that, that’s the biggest blessing as a parent, to hear your children say Amen and to know that they are strong and they are going to be okay because we have each other and they have a strong foundation.”

The Vargos want to encourage other families to practice family fire drills this week. They are asking the community to practice their own fire drills, and then turn on their porch lights between 5 and 7 p.m. Tuesday in a show of solidarity.

“You can either be bitter or you can be better and what we’re taking out of this is get the community involved,” said Laken Vargo.

A working smoke alarm is crucial to fire safety in residential homes, said County Fire Marshall Jonathan Head. With the types of materials used to build contemporary homes, a fire can go from small to engulfing a room rapidly, he said.

“We have that smoke detector to let us know when something’s starting to catch fire. It gives us that extra time, especially when you have people who are elderly or disabled, to get out.”

A fire safety plan is also important, especially for small children who need to know what to do, where to go and how to call for help, said Head.

“Always have a plan. We have fire drills for school, but we need fire drills for homes, especially ones for small children, so that they know what to do, they know how to get out, to leave everything behind, to have two ways out of the house and to have a plan as to where they’re going to go and meet up,” said Head.

For larger homes or homes with disabled family members, residential sprinkler systems help keep fires small, so that people have more time to escape the fire.

There was another residential fire in the county last week on Thursday, Feb. 4 in a mobile home on Villa Lane. No one was injured in that fire either. The cause is still under investigation, said Head.

Pearl River County works with the American Red Cross and the state Fire Marshal’s Office to offer free smoke alarms that can be installed at no charge in homes. For more information on free smoke alarms contact the county EOC at 601-795-3058. The National Fire Protection Association website, nfpa.org, has more tips on fire safety.