Family overjoyed by return of pets feared lost in house fire

Jackie Umland of Perry comforted the cat Romeo, who was reunited with his family after escaping alive the March 14 house fire at 1324 Willis Ave. Romeo has been missing since Saturday at about noon.

The fire that destroyed the house of Michael and Hildie Stokely at 1324 Willis Ave. early on the morning of March 14 cost the family the lives of their two dogs, a Shih-Tzu named Jonny and a Pekingese named Jasmine, but the family’s grief was tempered this week with the return of two house cats they feared were also lost.

Romeo, a handsome male with a bit of the British Blue about him, and Sonoma, a black and gray tabby, made themselves scarce during and after the hurly burly of the fire, but they presented themselves after a few days, much to the family’s joy.

“We are very grateful that we have the cats,” said Jessica Lingner of Perry, the niece of Michael and Hildie Stokely. “We always miss Jazz and Jon Jon, but we have the memories.”

Lingner and her mother, Jackie Umland of Perry, have been on hand to comfort the Stokely family this week in the aftermath of the fire.

The dogs were in their kennels on the second floor and died of smoke inhalation. Jason Stokely, the son of Mike and Hildie, said he tried to rescue them once the rest of the family was evacuated, but by then the staircase to the second floor was belching smoke like a furnace.

“The dogs are being cremated together,” according to Lingner. “My uncle said, ‘Together in life. Together in death.'”

Mike Stokely was out of town at the time of the house fire, but his wife and son escaped alive along with Jason’s girlfriend, Maria Miller, and their 6-year-old son, Jadon.

A report on the incident by the Perry Volunteer Fire Department concluded the fire started when a cigarette smoldering in a wastebasket set fire to an upper-story bedroom. Oxygen in use in the room might have acted as an accelerant, according to Perry Volunteer Fire Department Chief Chris Hinds.

The report said the firefighters began with an exterior attack on the second-floor windows facing Willis Avenue, after which “the interior crew made its interior attack on the fire, starting in the northeast corner of the second floor and working their way around the upstairs, eventually moving on to the third floor (attic).”

Sixteen firefighters responded to the 1:30 a.m. blaze, with one suffering a strained bicep and a second sustaining fire blistering to the back of one ear.

The Stokelys’ parrot survived unharmed.

It took the Perry Volunteer Fire Department eight hours to fully extinguish the blaze in the 102-year-old, 3,500-square-foot house.

Additional happy pet news occurred when firefighters finally discovered the family’s parrot on the first floor of the house.

“The guys kept saying they could hear some kind of noise as they moved around the house,” Hinds said. “It must have been the parrot squawking. His cage was covered with a blanket, and he seemed none the worse for wear when we found him. The First Responders drove him out to the Super 8 and reunited him with the family.”



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