Koryn Houdek believes she was there for a reason.
Houdek, 37, was delivering copies of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel around 6:45 a.m. Dec. 31 in Wauwatosa when she noticed large amounts of billowing smoke.
"It smelled really bad and it kind of caught my attention," Houdek said. The Milwaukee resident has delivered newspapers since age 12.
The source of the smoke was a single-family ranch-style home at 3369 Knoll Blvd. It wasn't a home that Houdek delivered newspapers to.
"I was down the block, but the smoke was blowing right into the street," she said. "There was way too much smoke."
Houdek stepped out of her car to investigate.
"The house was set kind of far back," she said. "I walked up to the house. It looked like the top of the chimney was kind of glowing. I was concerned, but when I looked into the window of the living room, I didn't see anything."
Houdek could see a couple cats that were roaming through the home. She walked around the outside of the house to another window, and that's when she noticed flames flickering on a wall.
"I called 911 and I began banging on the door and the window," she said. "I walked around to the side of the house by the chimney. The smoke was in the roof and not the living room."
Looking for help
After several failed attempts to wake up those inside, Houdek decided she needed help.
She headed to the immediate neighbor's house and attempted to wake them up, but got no response.
Houdek noticed that a home in the opposite direction had a light on. She ran over to the house and told a man who was awake inside about the fire.
"I walked with him around the house and he started banging on all the windows," she said. His voice was louder and he was able to hit the windows with more force, she said.
"The neighbor who helped, he was the one who was able to wake them up," Houdek said.
The six residents inside eventually woke up and came outside. The entire event unraveled within a matter of minutes. Houdek said she could hear sirens coming from Wauwatosa Fire Department engines within minutes of calling 911, and they arrived at shortly.
The fire was placed under control within 40 minutes of the first-arriving fire crews, and no one was injured, according to the fire department. Damage to the property was estimated at around $80,000.
In a news release from the department, the fire was extinguished so quickly because a neighbor had removed the snow from a fire hydrant in the yard after a recent snowfall. That saved the department the additional work of digging the hydrant out of the snow and helped limit damage to the home.
The exact cause of the fire is still unknown, but it appears to have started in the attic and roof overhangs near a fireplace chimney. Working smoke detectors were found inside the residence.
Houdek stayed on the scene for about half an hour to give a statement to authorities, but she said she doesn't consider herself any sort of hero.
"I don't think I did anything unusual," she said. "It was very good timing. I feel I was there for a reason. It's not a heroic thing. I just called 911."