It was a snowy evening during Christmas week in Winlock and Haylee Laur, 15, was home babysitting two of her sisters when she smelled smoke coming from down the hall.
When she looked for the source, she saw the home heating system had caught fire — and the flames were getting close to her 3-year-old sister, Ellie.
When asked what her first thought was, Haylee said: “Ellie. Get Ellie. Because the flames were surrounding her and she was, like, just shocked, just standing there.”
With Ellie in her arms, Haylee made sure her other sister, 4-year-old Madison, was following them and together the three got out of the house. But someone was missing: the family pug, Buddy.
“I thought he went out with us, but I looked behind because I thought he was following us, (and) he wasn’t. He was still in there,” said Haylee.
Once her sisters were safely outside, Haylee went back into the fully-involved structure to rescue Buddy.
When asked what she saw when she went back in, Haylee said, “Dark, smoke, flames all over. I couldn’t see anything.”
She crawled under the smoke, found the dog in the dining room and brought him outside.
“I think he was looking for us, but I just went in there, crawled in there and got him,” she said.
Haylee called 911 and managed to carry her siblings across several snow covered pastures, barefoot, to the safety of a neighbor’s house.
Lewis County Fire District 15 Chief Richard Underdahl said he was impressed with Haylee's actions.
“I’m very proud of her,” he said to a reporter, later adding, “you’re not going to find a girl her age going back into a fully involved structure.”
Haylee herself has been very humble about what she did, Underdahl said.
“That’s one of the attributes of a hero, is being humble,” he said.
Mag Instrument, the manufacturer of the Maglite flashlight, awarded Haylee a MAGLITE Tough Award for her heroic actions the evening of the fire during a brief ceremony Thursday.
The award was created last year as a way to recognize civilians for extraordinary actions, said Lou Desmond, who does public relations work for Mag Instrument and happens to be one of the Laur family’s neighbors in Winlock.
“Normally I’m traveling around the country doing this in some small community somewhere, but this time I’m fortunate to do it in my own backyard,” said Desmond at Haylee’s award ceremony in Chehalis.
The award came with some money, but “it is not going to be enough to completely see them through,” said Desmond.
The family’s home was completely lost in the fire, which was fully involved when fire personnel arrived on the scene, said Underdahl.
“The snow really hampered everybody getting there,” he said.
Crews were able to protect the exterior of the home and prevent the fire from spreading, but the roof collapsed before crews arrived and there was no way to salvage anything inside, Underdahl said.
“It’s one of those things that you try to reassure them that it's just stuff and your kids and your dog are OK, and that’s what matters,” he said.
“I don’t even know how to begin to pick up the pieces. We are all still in shock and just trying to get through each day,” said Haylee’s mom, Nichole Johnston, in a written statement. “Haylee’s my hero. I am so proud of her. She saved the children’s and the dog’s life, so we certainly have that to be thankful for. The house is gone, we are financially ruined, but all my children are alive and well — that is a blessing.”
The community has banded together to donate clothes and other items to the Laur family, but they are still in need of assistance — namely in getting school supplies and finding a permanent place to live.
To donate to the Laur family, visit https://gofund.me/ebe3d23e.