Roger Guillory’s 9-year-old daughter, De’Qauria, woke him and his wife, Camay Guillory, about 1 a.m.
De’Qauria couldn’t breathe, she said, because of all the smoke. She had been sleeping in the same room with siblings on the first floor of the family’s two-story farmhouse in northwestern Douglas County.
The girl alerting her parents set off a chain of events early Friday morning that led to nine family members escaping the burning home.
Roger, De’Qauria and five of his other children climbed out a second-story window and dropped 10 feet to the patio — all as smoke was pouring out of the house — into Camay’s arms below. As fire crews arrived minutes later, the house at 1772 North 200 Road was up in flames.
Remarkably, no one was hurt.
“The real hero here is my daughter for coming and letting us know and my wife for getting us out,” Roger said Friday afternoon. “I really didn’t do anything other than teach them a safe exit.”
Camay and their 19-month-old son had got out on the first floor as Roger went back upstairs to help the five other children get out.
He believes their escape from the blaze was a result of constantly working with the children by practicing fire drills and making them aware of what to do in dangerous situations. It’s ingrained in Roger, 36, who works in safety at the ICL Performance Products plant.
“You don’t have time to think,” he said. “It was just a natural reaction for something that we practice.”
As the children followed him outside the second-story window, they were all coughing and gagging on the smoke. He shut the window behind them to try to buy them some time before he began lowering them to his wife.
“We just couldn’t see at all,” he said.
The house, which the Guillory family moved into earlier this year, was a total loss, and the fire displaced the family of 11. Two of the children were staying with grandparents and were not home during the fire.
Jane Blocher, executive director of the Douglas County chapter of the Red Cross, said the agency is providing hotel lodging for the Guillory family for five days in addition to providing assistance for food, clothing and other emergency items.
“They will really need additional support beyond what we’ve given,” she said.
Chris Lesser, Kanwaka Township’s fire chief, said that based on interviews with the family he determined that a mattress too close to a space heater likely caused the blaze. Roger said they believe a futon mattress caught fire.
“Any time you use supplemental heat you have to watch it and make sure that combustible materials are kept clear of it,” Lesser said.
The fire was reported at 1:15 a.m. at the home about 2 miles north of Stull.
Lesser said when Kanwaka crews arrived, flames were already through the roof in one part of the house, so firefighters fought the blaze from outside the home as a defensive maneuver. All of the family members were out of the house by the time firefighters arrived. He said crews cleared the scene after 7 a.m.
No firefighters were injured, and crews from Wakarusa and Clinton townships and Lecompton Fire/EMS assisted.
Trucks from Lawrence-Douglas County Fire Medical and Willow Springs and Eudora townships also were at the scene.
Blocher said it made a huge difference that Guillory had the children regularly participate in fire drills and other safety measures, especially because the fire occurred in the middle of the night, which is often very dangerous.
If one needs a reminder, two grandparents and their three young granddaughters died in a Christmas morning fire in Stamford, Conn.
“This could have had a tragic ending,” Blocher said of Friday morning’s fire, “and it did not.”
The Guillory family’s belongings are destroyed, along with the home they were buying.
They did not have insurance, Roger said. But Friday afternoon he was just thankful for their lives and the support they received from neighbors and others.
“We’re not really worried about that,” he said. “God is good. We’ll get by.”
First, they will focus on finding another place to live and then go from there.
Guillory also hopes the family’s story can help others. They worked to make the children aware of safety, not only based on his job but also through what they learn about fire safety at school. They had even rehearsed the same second-story escape route they took.
“I would travel the country and tell people that those things work,” he said, “and my family has been through it. I would. We shared that with our kids, and that saved lives.”