Hannah Arce

Hannah Arce, age 14, poses with the burnt stove topper that led to fire damage in her home on Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, July 5. Damage from the July 1 fire was quickly mitigated by Arce’s initiative which she attributes partially to fire safety classes taught at installation schools.

July 1st started out as any other day for 14 year old Hannah Arce. The rising freshman at Lejeune High School was enjoying another summer morning snugly in her bed. Her mother, Kathrin Arce, had an early morning vet appointment with the family cat and was already gone.

“Around 7:30 a.m., I was at the vet with the cat and the fire department called,” said Kathrin Arce.

The 14 year old Arce was awoken by the sound of the family smoke alarm around a quarter to seven.

“I didn’t think much of it so I went back to sleep,” Arce said.

After a moment of unwavering beeping, she slowly climbed out of bed and wiped the sleep from her eyes. As she approached her bedroom door she noticed black smoke. She ran down the stairs and saw thick smoke climbing out of her kitchen. The stove had been left on and a thick wooden stove topper had caught fire.

“I think I may have, when I was trying to put my kitty in the crate, bumped the stove’s dial,” Arce’s mother said.

Hannah Arce immediately jumped into action and grabbed an oven mitt. She quickly grabbed the stove topper and threw it into the sink, turning on the water.

“When I pulled the topper off flames shot up,” Arce recalled. “I was surprisingly calm. I opened up all the windows to let the smoke out and ran to get Luca (her dog). The only thing I didn’t think about was a fire extinguisher.”

Hannah states that the only thing she could think about was finding her dog and getting out of the house. She ran through the house in search of her dog, whom she found in her parents room. She scooped him up, ran outside and called 911.

The fire department arrived quickly, inspected the home and called her mother. Hannah’s father, U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. John Arce, of the USS Comfort, is currently deployed.

“It was the worst phone call I’ve ever gotten,” Arce’s mother said. “Pulling up to my house, and seeing my daughter sitting on the back of a fire truck was both scary and relieving at the same time.”

Arce attributes her quick thinking to fire safety and prevention classes she took last year as an eighth grader at Brewster Middle School.

“They spoke to the school about what to do when there’s a fire,” Arce said. “I guess it worked really well.”

According to Glenn Zurek, Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune deputy fire chief, Arce followed protocol exceptionally well.

“While we typically encourage people to leave at the first sign of a fire, Hannah reacted very quickly,” Zurek said, “This is a good story of someone acting quickly to identify the source of the fire, had working smoke alarms, and was able to save the house.”

Zurek was pleased to hear that Arce had retained so much from her fire safety class.

“This is important for children to learn: low crawling from smoke, understanding the different types of fuels for a fire and knowing what to do next,” Zurek said.

Nick Perozzi, MCB Camp Lejeune fire inspector, reinforced the importance of proper preparation for emergency situations.

“It is important for people to have a practiced fire safety plan,” Perozzi said.

Zurek also noted that the smoke alarm, which may very well have saved Arce’s home and life, is a crucial part of any home.

“Testing your smoke alarms twice a year and checking your fire extinguishers on a regular basis are key to staying safe,” Zurek said.

While the house was saved, there was some damage. The stove had to be replaced. They have been airing out the home, opening all windows, wiping down walls and scrubbing the counters clean of all the smoke and residue.

“Half of household fires are started in the kitchen,” Zurek said. “From 2016 to 2017, nationwide residential fires went down 6%, but deaths from fire rose 10%. This means, while there are less fires more people are dying from fires. So having a practiced fire plan will save lives.”

For more information about fire safety and Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune Fire and Emergency Services, visit mcieast.marines.mil/Staff-Offices/Security-Emergency-Services/Fire-Emergency-Services-Division/.