When Kala Gauthaman got up in the middle of the night Saturday and heard crackling sounds in the garage, she thought it was her husband coming home from working out of town. She opened the door to greet him.
Instead of a kiss, she was met with a surge of heat as t a fire that had started in their garage rushed toward her, leaving her with blisters on her face and singeing her hair before she could slam the door shut.
But it could have been worse.
Just before 3 a.m., when the fire was discovered, the Chattanooga Fire Department sent trucks to Wanda Harrelson's house. She lives on the same block in Windbrook as the Gauthamans, just a few doors down.
Harrelson's carbon monoxide alarm had gone off, and firefighters came to get her and her family out of the house. After they shut off the hot water heater, they got a call about a fire just a few houses up the road, at 6208 N. Innsbrook Drive.
"They were lucky," said Harrelson. "All they [firefighters] had to do was back up and start fighting the fire."
They were there in minutes, said neighbor Diane Evans, who watched the fire from her two-story home.
Gauthaman and her sister, who was visiting, got out of the house.
"That's the reason they were saved," said K.G. Gauthaman, concerning the coincidence of fire trucks already being on the street.
Neighbors brought lawn chairs, bottled water and an aloe vera plant to sooth the wife's burn, Evans said. Kala Gauthaman was later treated for her minor injuries and released from the hospital.
Though the fire damage to the Gauthamans' home was substantial, it, too, could have been worse, said Harrelson.
The fire, which consumed a car inside the garage and started spreading to the attic, caused about $100,000 in damages before firefighters from five fire companies got it under control.
On Sunday evening, yellow fire lane tape still wrapped around bushes and greenery surrounding the house the Gauthaman family had lived in for nearly three decades. Rose-and yellow-colored insulation hung out a corner in the garage. The stench from the fire still carried 24 hours after the fire.
But instead of feeling loss, Gauthaman said he's happy his family survived.
"I'm so thankful that they got out with minor injuries," he said.
The fire is being ruled accidental. Firefighters are still determining what caused it, according to a Chattanooga Fire Department news release.
Contact staff writer Yolanda Putman at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6431.