A fire at 313 Selman St. in Tyler left 18 people homeless Friday night after the blaze started by a space heater ripped through the duplex.
No injuries were reported to the residents or firefighters and the American Red Cross was assisting the families with housing.
(Read the column on saving the toy and watch the heartwarming video here:
Residents told the Tyler Morning Telegraph there are two families in the duplex with about 12 residents, but one family had six people visiting from Atlanta.
City of Tyler Fire Marshal Paul Findley said the fire started around 7:23 p.m. when an electric heater caught fire on the second floor of the home. The fire spread in the upstairs and to the attic.
“The first unit got here quickly and flames and heavy smoke was coming from the second story of the two-story structure, they got in and immediately started their normal routine, making sure all the occupants were out before starting to get a handle on the fire,” said Findley.
“They were out of the apartment at the time when it started. Thankfully there were no injuries, they got here quickly and got it out quickly and the structure is still standing, which is good.”
Findley said six engines and a ladder truck were at the scene so it was considered a second-alarm fire.
Once the structure was secure, firefighters turned their attention to a crying child, Jayden Hernandez, 6, of Atlanta. He brought his stuffed animal, Woof Woof, to Tyler for the visit. His parents, Jorge Hernandez Jr. and Janet Rodriguez, said they bought him the stuffed animal when he was an infant at Toys R Us and he falls asleep with Woof Woof each night.
Firefighters were on the radio asking anyone in the house to look for the stuffed animal. After a few failed attempts (the wrong toys), Tyler Fire Department District Chief David Admire was shown a photo of the stuffed animal.
Admire brought it out and the child sobbed loudly with tears of joy. He then posed for a photo with the firefighter. A video of the exchange and events leading up to the reuniting of the animal with the child are on the TylerPaper.com website and the Tyler Paper Facebook and Twitter accounts.
“I think they did a good job because they would not give up until they found it for him,” said Jorge Hernandez. “He goes to sleep with it, he doesn’t go anywhere without it.”
Mom added, “They went above and beyond ... just to go back in there to get his stuffed animal.”
When asked if he was happy to get Woof Woof back, the child flashed a huge smile and hugged the plush toy, which was wrapped in a new, white American Red Cross blanket.