Two children escape Arnold house fire

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ARNOLD, MO (KTVI) -- A massive fire destroyed the home of a well-known St. Louis-area family Wednesday afternoon.

Two children were inside when it was burning and narrowly escaped injury. 

The home on Bethany Court in Arnold belongs to a member of the Fortel family, known for the popular pizza restaurants.

Shannon Fortel Keller, her sister, and their mom met at one of them and to go to the Cardinals game. 

Keller came home to "no" home.  But she also came home to her two children, who made it out of there, after a very close call.

“As I turned in, I could see the smoke coming up.  I had a guy in front of me.  He had his window down I had my window down and I’m screaming, ‘drive, drive!  I need to get there, that’s my house,’” Keller said. 

“It’s horrific,” said her sister and business partner, Shelly Fortel.  “I got the phone from the restaurant.  I immediately jumped in the car and headed here.  I could see the black smoke from Butler Hill.  I knew it was not going to be good.”

She didn’t know how close her niece Lexi, 11,  and nephew Jeffrey, 12, came to getting burned – or worse.

They’d just gotten home from school. Their dad at was work.  

They smelled smoke and started looking for the source around 4:00pm.

“We thought somebody was just having a barbecue but then it got really, really, strong.  So, we went out to hear what it was.  We heard fireworks going off,” said Lexi Keller. 

Neighbors heard one big explosion – then lots of pops. 

The family had a bucket full of fireworks in the garage. 

“The fire came really close as soon as we started opening the garage door so me and my brother had to take a step back. I could feel the heat and my face started getting really, really, red,” Lexi said.  “All I could do is sit there and cry and scream because there were flames and black smoke coming out of the house like crazy.”

“Don’t take any fire lightly.  Get out.  Stay out.  Call us.  Fire can travel very quickly, get up in attics, crawl spaces and travel very, very, quickly as it did in this case,” said Ron Harder of the Rock Community Fire Protection District. 

“It was so bad, we couldn’t even see our own address on our house,” Lexi said. 

109 Bethany: the Keller children left all of their treasured possessions – IPads, backpacks, phones and photos – and ran from the family home their parents always dreamed of, and built nine years ago.

“We just had Christmas here.  It’s gone.  It’s gone.  But it’ll be ok.  Everybody’s safe.  We have a very strong knit family. We’re all here for each other,” Shelly Fortel said. 

The children’s aunt who lives a couple of houses away rescued the family dog, Harley. 

Firefighters initially began an interior attack but the fire spread so far, so quickly, they had to get out.

They did keep it from reaching the neighboring houses. 

No one was hurt.

The fire started in the garage but it was too early to tell what sparked it, Harder said.

The home was a total loss.

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