FAIRBANKS — A family in Two Rivers barely escaped a house fire early Saturday after their two cats woke them in the middle of the night to discover the outside of their home was engulfed in flames.
On Sunday, Cheryl Meierotto said she, her husband, Jeff, and their 5-year-old daughter, MyricaGale, wouldn’t be alive had it not been for their two cats, Stripe and Rocky, both of which perished in the fire.
“I believe if the cats hadn’t woken us up we wouldn’t be here,” Cheryl Meierotto said. “The smoke alarm didn’t go off because there was nothing burning in the house ... there was no smoke in house.”
It was almost 12:30 a.m. when Jeff Meierotto awoke to the sound of the two cats making a ruckus in their bedroom, which is in a half loft of their 24-foot-by-32-foot log cabin near 21 Mile Chena Hot Springs Road.
“They were doing something so he went to kick them off the bed and that’s when he saw this orange glow outside,” Cheryl Meierotto said. “He jumped out of bed and ran downstairs, and I wondered why he was getting out of bed; that’s when I saw the orange glow.”
She ran downstairs and scooped up her daughter while Jeff went outside to see if he could put the fire out, Cheryl Meierotto said. The entire outside wall of the house was on fire, she said.
“He opened the door and the flames were licking up under the deck and we couldn’t go out that way,” she said. “We turned around and went out the back door.”
As soon as they opened the door, the house began filling with smoke, Cheryl Meierotto said.
Hoping to save the cats, Jeff ran back upstairs to see if he could find them while Cheryl stood outside with MyricaGale watching the house going up in flames.
“I was outside waiting for him and it was like, ‘Oh, my God,’” Cheryl Meierotto said. “I was standing there trying to figure out if I go back in and find him or stay out there with my daughter.
“At about the point I was going to freak out, all of a sudden I saw him flying out of the house and he landed in the snow,” she said. “He had to leap through a wall of fire to get out.”
Jeff Meierotto, 51, who was in bare feet, suffered burns to his face, arm, leg and foot on his left side, his wife said. He was being treated for burns at a medical clinic on Sunday while she talked to a reporter.
“If he had taken the time to look under bed for the cats he wouldn’t have made it out,” Cheryl Meierotto, 48, said. “By the time he got out the whole exterior of the house was covered in flames.
“He said he came down the stairs, could see a wall of flames, got a running start and jumped,” she said. “He had to leap through the fire to get out.”
The 15-year-old home, on Trickett Lane off Grange Hall Road at 21 Mile Chena Hot Springs Road, was totally destroyed.
Two Rivers is not part of a fire service area, so no fire department responded but even if one had, there wasn’t much firefighters could have done, Cheryl Meierotto, 48, said. By the time her husband and his brother, Marty, who lives just down the road, returned a few minutes later after outfitting Jeff in some clothes and boots, the roof had already fallen in, she said. The cabin was elevated on railroad ties and the fire had traveled underneath the house by the time the family awoke.
“It went very fast,” Cheryl Meierotto said.
It appears the fire started outside the house in the same area where there is an exhaust pipe for a Toyo stove and a fuel tank. There are also water lines with heat tape on them in the same area, Cheryl Meierotto said.
“All these years, I was worried about the wood stove starting a fire,” she said
The house was insured but Cheryl Meierotto said the family lost most of their personal belongings, such as clothes, photo albums, artwork, an ivory collection, jewelry and other items.
“What I take from this is that we had an opportunity to get out alive and we took it,” she said. “I will never regret not stopping to take anything. There was no time. I’m not going to complain about it because we’re alive. The sad thing is the cats didn’t make it.”
A shed, garage, airplane hanger, smoke house and guest cabin remain, she said.
“We’re going to live in the guest cabin,” Cheryl Meierotto said. “At least we have a place to live.”
Contact staff writer Tim Mowry at 459-7587.