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Burned out
Fire displaces city woman and 10 dogs
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Markeisha James lost her home on Gravely Street on Tuesday after a fire started in the kitchen. Since then, James has been looking for a rental property that will accommodate her and her dogs — all 10 of them. James is seen Thursday hugging Lotus while the dog’s puppies play in a plastic box. (Bulletin photo by Mike Wray)

Friday, March 14, 2014

By DEBBIE HALL - Bulletin Staff Writer

Markeisha James is staying with family and friends until she can find a landlord who will allow what she calls her babies — all 10 of them.

James’ former home on Gravely Street is not livable after it burned Tuesday, according to Martinsville Fire Marshal Ted Anderson. Fire damage was mainly confined to one room and its contents, he added.

James spent most of Wednesday and Thursday looking for a new home, but with no luck.

On Thursday afternoon, she recalled the minutes leading up to the fire.

James explained that she has two dogs — a male named “Left-Eye” and a female named “Lotus.” Her brood also includes a litter of eight puppies.

Just before the fire, James said she left Left-Eye in the living room asleep while she went into the kitchen to make a chicken patty. She said she turned on the stove to heat up two inches or so of grease in a large pot and went back in the living room to play with her dog.

“I heard a really loud POP noise,” she said, but after looking around the living room, James said she didn’t see anything that may have fallen.

“I didn’t think to pull the back curtain” that divided the living room and hallway, she said. A few minutes later, “I saw some smoke on the wall. ... Then I smelled something, and I looked up and there was black smoke pouring over the top of the curtain.”

Reaching for a door to go into the kitchen, James said, “I looked to see if there were any clear (smoke-free) spots” in the kitchen that would provide fresh air while she checked the damage and possibly tried to extinguish the blaze.

“I crawled into the kitchen with the male dog following me. I had the door wide open and could see a cabinet that’s only a couple feet from the stove was completely on fire,” she said. “I couldn’t see anything else because the smoke was so black and thick.”

James said she repeatedly told Left-Eye to get out of the kitchen, but when she realized how bad the blaze was, her insistence grew, and she made the dog get out.

Also, “my phone just happened to break two or three days before,” and she said she had no way to call for help, she said. After getting Left-Eye out of the home, James said she ran from one neighbor’s house to another, asking someone to call for help.

“I knew since the fire was in the back of the house, I would have time to get back to” Lotus and her almost four-weeks-old pups, she said.

“I ran back up to the house and opened the door back up. It was really smoky in there, and I was standing there with door open, trying to clear out a (smoke-free) path on the floor so I could get my dogs,” James said.

She watched a patrol vehicle and a fire truck pass her home and later learned “there were two other fires going on that night at same time.” But at the time, James said, she was thinking, “‘Oh my God, they’re not coming.’ When I saw the path was clear, I got down on my hands and knees” and went back inside to rescue the other dogs, she said.

Luckily, the litter of puppies was in a large cage, James said. Lotus, however, was not in the cage.

“As I was dragging the cage out on my hands and knees,” James said Lotus briefly ran behind. But “I think the combination of the smoke and the sounds of the cage (being dragged) scared her. I was screaming her name and screaming her name. She wouldn’t come to me.”

With the cage of puppies safely outside and Left-Eye being held by neighbors, James said she again went back to the house to try to find Lotus.

“I knew I wouldn’t make it out if I went in there for her. It was just too much” smoke by then, she said.

Firefighters saw Lotus in the bathtub, but she wouldn’t raise her head, James said. When the fire was extinguished, windows were broken to let the smoke out so James could go inside to get Lotus.

“It was a blessing from God. She is so smart. She had curled up as small as she could get” in the tub, James said. “I guess she could smell air coming through the drain, and she put her nose as close to the drain as she could get it. She had her paws over her eyes and head. ... She was trapped in the fire the whole entire time.”

Now, “I can’t find anybody that will let me keep dogs. I need somebody to work with me” on a deposit and rent as well, she said.

If anyone knows of rental property that will allow dogs, James hopes they will call her at 734-1917.


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