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‘I didn’t think twice.’ Merced family describes escape from harrowing house fire

Merced family that survived fire thanks the community for support

Five members of a Merced family said they survived a fire this week through teamwork and with a little bit of chance. They spoke on Friday, Jan. 11, 2019.
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Five members of a Merced family said they survived a fire this week through teamwork and with a little bit of chance. They spoke on Friday, Jan. 11, 2019.

Five members of a Merced family said they survived a fire this week through teamwork — and a little bit of chance.

Merced city firefighters went to a home in the 3500 block of Cordova Avenue after reports of smoke and fire showing from the garage and cars in the home just before 6 a.m. Monday, fire officials said.

Resident Michelle Boyle, 54, said her 14-year-old granddaughter, Kaylee, had just gotten back the previous night from Alaska. She was jet lagged and not feeling well so she was unexpectedly awake when she heard a noise in the living room, where she thought a new kitten was getting into the Christmas tree again.

But, she opened the door and saw the thick black smoke, Boyle said, before screaming and waking everyone up.

Kaylee declined to speak with the Sun-Star because the night was traumatic, her mother Renee Strang said. “My daughter is actually all of our heroes,” Strang said.

Residents of Merced County for three decades, Boyle and her 55-year-old husband, Dennis, were weeks away from celebrating 10 years in the home on Cordova Avenue.

Dennis Boyle said on the morning of the fire he ran into his son’s room to help him get out by carrying him. Morgan Boyle has cerebral palsy, so the 25-year-old uses a wheelchair to get around.

The father said as he rounded the corner to leave the room, his knees gave out. He began trying to Army crawl and bring his son along, all while shielding the younger Boyle from the heat. It took its toll as the father has burns on his back.

He called for help and his wife and daughter, who had made it out of the house, went back into the thick smoke to help drag Morgan Boyle out as Dennis Boyle crawled.

“The only reason I think the ladies got burned is because they actually ran back in to get us out,” the father said.

“I didn’t think twice. My dad and my brother were on the floor,” Strang said.

The family tumbled out onto the lawn, they said. Then multiple neighbors jumped in to assist, going as far as to give the family shoes and shelter until paramedics arrived.

Community rallies around family

The outpouring of support has continued through neighbors, friends and strangers, the family said. Morgan Boyle, who was adopted by the Merced College football team about a dozen years ago, got a shout out on the team’s Facebook page with hashtag #Onceabluedevilalwaysabluedevil.

“It’s just beyond words,” Michelle Boyle said about the support.

Four of the five family members suffered first- and second-degree burns, they said. They lost all six of their small dogs and a cat, which succumbed to smoke inhalation. The people at the Franklin Pet Cemetery laid the animals to rest at no fee to the family.

The burns are all expected to mostly heal, the family said, without extensive scaring. The Boyles and their son were treated in Fresno, while Strang and Kaylee went to Mercy Medical Center.

Michelle Boyle had burns to her face, hands, legs and back. Morgan Boyle was burned on much of his legs, as well as his face and arm.

The fire appears to have started in the garage, according to Merced Fire Department Battalion Chief Cory Haas, although the cause is still unknown. Noting the fire was lethal to the family’s pets, Haas said the outcome could have been worse. “I would say for (the family) to escape the fire was very fortunate,” he said.

The family said they’re still reeling from the losses in the home, saying they’ve purposely not examined the remains yet. “At least we have our lives,” Morgan Boyle said.

Three cars, including a van used to help Morgan Boyle get around, were also destroyed.

The Boyles said their next move is to get back on their feet.

“We just want the community around us to know we appreciate the outpouring of support,” Dennis Boyle said as his voice cracked with emotion. “The showing of love, compassion (and) understanding.”

“My wife said it best the other day: There aren’t enough ‘Thank you’ notes,” he said.

The family has a Gofundme page, which had collected more than $6,000 by Friday.

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