Firefighters find dog alive in Long Branch cinders

Staff WriterMarch 4, 2009 

— While Laura Francis and her husband, Jerry Branch, grieved Tuesday, there emerged a miracle from the ashes of their sprawling East Raleigh home -- the family's snow-white Labrador retriever.

The fire had started about 7:40 a.m. on the second floor of the family home on Long Branch Farm, one of the county's oldest homesteads. It dates to the Civil War. An equestrian event center, the farm covers 10 acres and includes a stadium, dressage arena and a cross-country course.

Chief George Gupton, of the Eastern Wake Fire Department, was almost a mile away on Auburn-Knightdale Road when he saw the flames shooting from the two-story home at 2400 Branch Road, painting the gray morning sky in orange tones.

"It looked like the whole world was on fire," Gupton said.

Despite the firefighters' efforts to control the blaze, Gupton said, the roof of the home caved in about an hour after he arrived. It was 2:30 p.m. before the firefighters managed to extinguish the fire.

Fire investigators have not yet determined an official cause of the fire, but Laura Francis told Gupton an upstairs heating unit began faltering last week. A repairman was scheduled to come look at it Tuesday.

While thick smoke wafted above the charred ruins, Francis asked Gupton whether a crew of firefighters could search for Sonny, her white Lab that had been in the home.

"I sent a crew in to check, but I didn't expect them to find the dog, at least not alive," Gupton said. "The roof had caved in, and he never came out of the house."

To the amazement of everyone at the scene, the fire crew dug through the debris and found Sonny, his thick coat blackened with soot, cowering under an end table.

Francis called, and the dog "shot out from under that table," Gupton said. "He was, happy as a lark."

How did the Lab manage to survive a six-hour fire? The firefighters didn't have a chance to ask him.

Fearing Sonny may have suffered lung damage, his family immediately rushed him to a vet.

"I have been in the fire service for 39 years, and that was a miracle," Gupton said.

thomasi.mcdonald@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4533

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