Troopers break in, pull woman from her burning home

Resident suffered from severe smoke inhalation

Posted: Friday, July 29, 2005

ANCHORAGE - A distraught woman who locked herself in her Sterling home and set it on fire was rescued by two Alaska State Troopers. Troopers Larry Erickson and Michael Henry broke down a door, crawled beneath flames and pulled the woman to safety just before midnight Wednesday.

Both troopers were treated for smoke inhalation. The woman suffered severe smoke inhalation and was flown to an Anchorage hospital.

Sterling is a Kenai Peninsula community about 14 miles east of Soldotna.

At 11:20 p.m., troopers received a call from police in Kotzebue reporting that a Sterling woman had called her sister in their city. The woman told her sister her husband had left her and she was considering torching the house and committing suicide.

Erickson, 37, a 12-year veteran, reached the home, a cabin he estimated at 20-by-40 feet, 19 minutes later.

He walked to the side of the home and called out to the woman inside. She stepped onto the front porch, and Erickson approached from around the corner,.

From her body language and the slur of her words, Erickson said, he could tell she had been drinking alcohol. Erickson asked her what the smell was. By that time, she could plainly see he was a trooper.

"She said, 'Go find out.' Then she bolts. I knew she was going to light it," Erickson said.

He ran to his patrol car, backed up and called for assistance. Within two minutes, through the front window, he could see flames.

Erickson ran to the front door, locked by a deadbolt. He found a miner's pick nearby and hacked away at the door until it opened. The fire flashed out and engulfed him in smoke.

He ran back to his car and grabbed an extinguisher at about the same time Trooper Henry arrived. Henry had a flashlight. Together, they again tried the front door, which had closed.

The troopers kicked it in. They saw one chance to enter the home - a layer of clear air along the floor. They crawled in, with Erickson blasting shots of retardant from the extinguisher.

Six feet away, the fire was blazing from wall to ceiling but Erickson didn't consider retreating, he said. Henry's flashlight had revealed the woman, unconscious on the floor.

They continued on their bellies under the table. They moved the woman into the back yard, but after spotting a 100-gallon propane tank against the back wall, moved her about 500 feet away.

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