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Local News

February 2, 2011

Split second decision leads to rescue of two from house fire

CENTERVILLE — Centerville resident Bobby Heriford was on his way to work at Iowa Steel and Wire on Thursday, Jan. 27, when he did something out of the ordinary. He decided to go out of his way to stop at the Casey’s General Store on 18th Street to get something to eat.

The store was out of the way, since Heriford had to drive through the intersection of Highway 2 and 5, where he usually turns to go to work, to reach the store.

Heriford and his girlfriend, Keri Youkum, of Newton, who was riding with him, didn’t know that just across the street from the gas station they were stopped at, a family home was engulfed in flames.

The two were waiting to pull out of the Casey’s parking lot when Youkum noticed flames inside of a house across the street.

“I called 911 and as I was talking to the lady on 911 I seen like a shadow of a little girl walk across in the window,” said Heriford. “We pulled over there and I ran to the door, but when I got to the door...I heard the other girl screaming.”

The girls were Samantha Anthony, 21 and Georgia Shondel, 2. They were trapped in the house. Three other members of the Shondel family, Hope Shondel, Michael Shondel, 16, and Virginia Shondel, 2, Georgia’s twin sister, had already made it out of the house.

“I checked the door,” said Heriford. “It was locked so I just started kicking the door and kept kicking it until it came open.”

According to Heriford, as soon as the door was open, Samantha ran out and collapsed on the ground. Heriford then ran into the burning house.

“I ran in and grabbed the little baby and got her out,” said Heriford.

By this time, Samantha had regained consciousness and told the couple that her mother was on the back porch.

Heriford then ran to the back porch, where he found Hope.

“I asked her, ‘Is anybody else in the house?’ and she said ‘My daughter and my granddaughter,’ said Heriford. “I said, “No I just got them out. They’re in the front yard.’ We took the two girls to the truck and set them in there till the ambulance got there.”

Amazingly the entire rescue took less than 15 minutes. The couple made the initial 911 call at 6:45 a.m. and Heriford said he was only two minutes late for work at 7 a.m.

“The crazy thing is, I never go that way to work,” said Heriford. “I always turn on Highway 2 from 5. I’m convinced  [the fire] that’s the reason why.”

According to Heriford, the two girls seemed to be in bad shape.

“To me, the little girl looked worse,” said Heriford. “Her whole face was just white. When I’ve been burned before, if it’s a bad burn, it’s white. Their hair was melted. The older girl, her arms were all black spots.”

The heat was so intense in the house that in just the few seconds he was inside, his facial hair was singed and the skin on his face began to blister.

“It was just unreal how hot it was in there,” said Heriford.

Even though the first officer arrived on the scene within five minutes, Heriford said time seemed to drag as they were waiting.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that if someone wouldn’t have been there to do that, none of them people would have got there in time to save them,” said Heriford.

Incredibally, Heriford was able to go to work for the rest of the day, sharing the news with his boss and a few co-workers.

“I was just out of it the whole day,” said Heriford. “I don’t think I stopped shaking till 10 o’clock that morning.”

Heriford said he has visited with Kris Shondel, father, husband and grandfather of the Shondel family, who wasn’t at home during the fire.

“It was pretty emotional,” said Heriford. “I’ve been staying in touch with him. As soon as they get out [of the hospital} I want to see them. I‘d like to watch them grow up.”

According to investigators, Hope, Michael and Virginia Shondel have been released from the hospital. Georgia Shondel and Samantha Anthony remain hospitalized at the University of Iowa burn center.

Monetary donations to the Shondel family can be made to Iowa Trust and Savings Bank in Centerville. People can also donate clothing and other items to the U-Sold-What store in Centerville. Donation jars have also been set up at various businesses.

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