Aquebogue fire victim tried to save dog as flames spread through house

03/06/2013 1:50 PM |
PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | Brian and Shannon Schaller stand outside their ruined Aquebogue home Wednesday afternoon.

PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | Brian Schaller and and his daughter, Shannon, stand outside their ruined Aquebogue home Wednesday afternoon.

The house fire that completely destroyed an Aquebogue home earlier this week has left the father and daughter who lived there with nothing, the pair said Wednesday.

“It’s tough; it’s tough I tell ya,” said the homeowner, Brian Schaller. “We lost everything, our house, our money, the dog, the cat.”

The fire destroyed the Trout Brook Lane house and sent Mr. Schaller and his daughter to a hospital for treatment of burns and smoke inhalation.

Mr. Schaller said that during the fire, he rushed upstairs to get his daughter out of the house.

The loyal family dog, a 7-year-old black Lab named Max, followed Mr. Schaller up the stairs but when the two fled, the dog was too afraid of the flames to leave through the house’s front door.

“The flames by then were already out the windows,” Mr. Schaller said. “He wouldn’t leave.” Mr. Schaller suffered burns on his legs and face as he tried to get Max out of the house, to no avail.

He was forced to flee as the porch caught fire.

Though Mr. Schaller and his daughter were able to escape, Max died in the fire. The family’s black cat, Honey Bunny, is also missing.

“I tried the best I could,” he said.

In spite of the tragedy of losing their belongings and their pets, the two who survived Monday’s early morning fire are glad for just that: they survived.

“We made it,” Mr. Schaller said Wednesday, holding his daughter Shannon, smiling.

“We’re trying not to dwell on it,” she said.

Mr. Schaller said he couldn’t sleep early Monday morning because of the pain in his back, so he lit a few candles in his Aquebogue home to read by and relax.

But about 4 a.m., one of the candles fell over and ignited the skirt of his bed.

“That hit the curtains and then [the fire] hit the ceiling,” Mr. Schaller said.

Police and firefighters rushed to the scene and found the porch completely engulfed in flames, according to a Riverhead Town police report. Mr. Schaller and Ms. Schaller were taken to Peconic Bay Medical Center for treatment, fire officials said.

The victims’ next-door neighbor, Lidia, said she was awakened by screaming just after 4 a.m. “When I looked out the window, I saw a police car in front of my driveway,” said Lidia, who did not give her last name. Debris from the fire had fallen into her backyard, she added.

Riverhead firefighters battled the blaze for more than two hours, using a ladder truck to get onto the roof of the house. Flanders Fire Department members also helped in putting out the fire, officials said. By 6 a.m., the fire was extinguished.

Mr. Schaller, who worked with LIPA before he suffered a back injury, said everything inside was lost to the flames.

A stash of savings for his daughter’s college fund burned in the fire, and Mr. Schaller said the family doesn’t have any clothes left; he’s been wearing a pair of sweatpants and a shirt given to him by a neighbor.

“We have nothing,” he said. “I have $26 in my pocket … We went through the house yesterday but we couldn’t save anything.”

The neighbors said they plan to establish a donation fund to help the father and his daughter get a fresh start in the wake of the fire.

Mr. Schaller returned to the property after his release from the hospital Monday morning to bury Max in the backyard.

Mr. Schaller said he may have lost all of his possessions in the fire, but was just glad his daughter is safe.

“I got my daughter out, thank God,” he said.

psquire@timesreview.com

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