As Michael Grasing was entering his home Jan. 13 to retrieve a shovel and remove the snow from his car, he glanced at his neighbor’s window and discovered a fire had started to engulf their curtains. Grasing immediately alerted his flatmates, Benjamin Wingo and Keegan Walsh, who quickly came to help.
“It was lucky to be in the right place at the right time,” Grasing said. “If I hadn’t of been, I don’t know if anyone would have seen it.”
The accident occured at 1 p.m. while 86-year-old Dixie Lou Aldridge was preparing to cook some fries on the stove. While her back was turned, the pan suddenly burst into flames. Her first thought was to throw it outside, but Aldridge realized the flames could have easily blown back into her face, so she attempted to toss it into the sink. The flames caught ahold of her paper towels, which then caught onto the curtains.
As Aldridge made her way to the porch calling for help, the young men were already on their way outside to assist. Wingo offered her his coat while they brought her away from the smoking home to a warm car, and called the police. Walsh found himself rushing into his home for a fire extinguisher. He then came back, made his way through the smoke-filled interior of Aldridge’s home and battled the ever-growing inferno around the window with a small can of extinguishing spray.
“I probably had a lot of adrenaline pumping,” Walsh said. “I don’t really remember the smoke above me, and I don’t really remember anything. I just remember spraying the windows. We were out there in jeans and T-shirts even though it was the day after the big snowstorm.”
Walsh said he had no experience dealing with house fires and only knew how to fight the fire from watching “MythBusters.” He said the flame was contained to the window, however, it would have spread if not for Walsh’s quick thinking. Before the fire department could arrive, the fire was extinguished.
Aldridge said it was a miracle that Grasing had spotted the fire at the right moment, and she was happy to have such amazing neighbors. Without their help, she couldn’t imagine what could have happened.
“Oh, I said if they were my own, I couldn’t be any more proud of them,” Aldridge said. “They are wonderful. They were good even before the fire happened. I don’t care what you have or how much it cost. It can be gone in an instant.”
The young men have been Aldridge’s neighbors for the past three years as students at Truman State University. All three began as cross country runners and formed a strong enough friendship to decide to share a home together. The group had developed a relationship with Aldridge over time, helping her with small things or just visiting to say hello.
After the event, Grasing said the Kirksville Police and Fire departments honored the three boys by presenting them with a certificate for their exceptional performance in a traumatic event and shook their hands. He said it was cool to have the honor; however, Grasing thinks no one would have acted differently in the situation.
Aldridge has lived in Kirksville for 33 years and has seen several people come and go from the home the trio live in, and she is thankful to have such wonderful neighbors.
“If I had $1 million, I think I’d split it with them,” Aldridge said. “They’re just that wonderful, but I’ve always had good boys over there.”
Aldridge said she was given housing at Quality Inn until Feb. 15, but she couldn’t stay there comfortably. Instead of waiting around in a tiny, noisy hotel room, Aldridge left and went back to the home that could have been nothing but faint ashes in the snow if there hadn’t been a young man at the right place at the right time.