FOREST PARK, Ohio — A family is picking up the pieces after a devastating fire destroyed much of their home, but all six made it out safely in a narrow-escape all thanks to their pet cat.
It was around 5:00 am Saturday, March 4 when Allysa John-Hall said she was woken up by her cat, Nina, who she thought wanted to play.
“The kitten was just in my face,” she said.
John-Hall said she got up and let the cat outside, but when she went back inside, she quickly realized something was wrong.
“I put her outside and I come back in and I’m like, ‘It’s awfully smokey,'” she said. “I open back the door and it was just smoke. It came fast, it was just black, black smoke I couldn’t see.”
Her home on Imprint Lane in Forest Park was on fire.
Flames were shooting up from the basement and smoke was spreading to every room. The family later learned from the fire department the fire started from a broken water heater.
John-Hall’s husband Marc said he woke up after he heard others in the home start to move around and he immediately ran down to the basement to make sure no one was there.
“I got hit with black soot, I mean I came out and I was just covered and the heat was just so intense,” Marc said. “I mean I thought I was on fire.”
The couple and their four young children made their way outside with their cat Nina leading the way.
Nina ran out of sight while John-Hall focused on getting her kids in the car. They huddled together watching their house burn as firefighters worked to douse the flames.
But after about 30 minutes, Nina was nowhere to be seen.
“I was like, ‘where is she?’ maybe she got scared, maybe she’s hiding,” John-Hall said.
But the family soon learned, despite her walking them out, Nina didn’t survive the fire.
At some point during the blaze, the kitten ran back inside. They found her upstairs in one of their son’s room where she slept every night.
“Marc found her and she had passed away,” John-Hall said.
The family suspects Nina hadn’t seen their oldest son when they all came out of the house, and that she must have run back in to check on him. They said that bedroom was as much hers as it was their oldest son’s.
“That was her place,” Marc said. “She just went back to where she was comfortable I think.”
Nina had only been with the family for a few months, but they said what she did for them that night left a lasting impact. They buried the kitten in the backyard with a tearful thank you and goodbye.
Though their house is still standing, the fire burned through much of the interior. The entire basement is destroyed, what once were gray walls are now stained black. The kitchen and right side of the home are also significantly damaged.
The family’s insurance won’t cover the costs so they launched a GoFundMe to help with expenses.
John-Hall said Red Cross has been a great help. Volunteers were at their home the night of the fire and the organization paid for a week-long stay at a hotel, but they will have to look elsewhere soon.
They’ve spent the past week sifting through the soot and debris. But despite what happened, they say they’re ultimately grateful.
“Thankful for our health — that we’re all alive and well,” Marc said.
And it’s all thanks to Nina, their little four-legged hero.