It’s a phone call no one ever wants to receive.
Leanne Walker was at work last Monday when her boyfriend called to tell her the fire department was at their Lynwood home.
Her heart dropped. They both rushed to the scene, worried about their pets and the shape their home might be in.
Earlier that morning on her way to school, a 12-year-old neighbourhood girl named Tabitha walked past Walker’s house.
She noticed smoke billowing out an open window and heard the home’s fire alarm. Tabitha ran home to tell her parents, who called the Calgary Fire Department.
Crews quickly responded and kicked in the front door. A friendly Australian cattle dog greeted them.
Discovering the cause
The smoke was coming from the kitchen. A plastic bowl was melting on a stovetop burner.
Walker’s boyfriend arrived first and was relieved to learn that the only casualty was the bowl and that the house, dog, and cat were all okay.
When Walker arrived, her boyfriend showed her the burnt bowl and she recognized it right away. It had been used for popcorn the night before and was left on the counter with a few remnants.
Walker recalls noticing it sitting beside the stove before leaving for work that morning, but since she was running a bit late, she just pushed it off to the side and decided to deal with it when she got home.
But how did it get on top of the stove and how did it get burned?
Walker swears the stove was not on when she left for work and the bowl was safely tucked against the wall.
She believes her beloved pooch Mason was the culprit.
“What we established happened was my dog was trying to get to the bowl. And in the process, he had his paw on one of the burners, like on the knob of the burner, and it must have been pushed in,” she hypothesizes.
“And as he’s trying to push [the bowl] over to get it off the countertop, he pushed it onto the burners, slipped off the knob, and it just turned the stove on. That’s the only logical explanation as to what happened.”
Walker says Mason is generally very well-behaved.
“This is kind of the first time in the six years that I’ve owned him that he’s done any sort of shenanigans like this.”
After posting about the incident on social media, Walker was comforted by others who shared similar stories with both dogs and cats.
Pets and fire safety
Calgary Fire Department spokesperson Carol Henke says pets aren’t the cause of fires often, but it does happen.
“From the start of 2020 to now, we’ve had one confirmed fire in which a cat switched on a burner by jumping onto the stove,” she says, adding a piece of Tupperware caught fire similar to Walker’s situation.
Henke says over the same period, pets were the potential cause of a total of eight fires. In these instances, a fire investigator has come up with a hypothesis but is not 100 per cent certain.
“We can’t always confirm, but we do suspect that pets, maybe, had a part to play. If only they could talk and tell us what happened,” Henke laughs.
According to statistics from the National Fire Protection Association, Henke says pets or wild animals have a part in starting about 750 home fires in the US every year.
“These involve cooking equipment, fireplaces, chimneys, space heaters, lamps, bulbs, wiring, and candles,” explains Henke, adding that even though they are American stats, the NFPA is the gold standard for fire safety and fire prevention information.
A pet fire safety tip sheet courtesy of the NFPA includes recommendations for keeping animals away from stoves, countertops, candles, lamps, and space heaters.
Henke adds to keep anything flammable away from stoves.
“If you have a pizza box resting on your stove, it’s not an issue if the stove isn’t on, but if for some reason the stove gets turned on, then the fire very easily starts.”
Too smart for his own good
Walker also has some advice.
Mason is a rescue and despite trying to kennel train him, Walkers says they were unsuccessful. She recommends crate training if possible and getting childproof locks for stove knobs — one of the first things she did after her close call.
“Childproof anything and everything you can because [pets are] sometimes too smart for their own good.”
Walker is counting her blessings that there were no injuries and minimal damage in her case.
She is thankful for the fire department’s response and very grateful for Tabitha’s quick thinking.
“If it wasn’t for that 12-year-old girl, it could have been a lot worse than it actually was,” Walker says, relieved.
“My house could have burned down. Something could have happened to my pets. I’m just so thankful for her.”
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